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Carriers move into mobile messenger business

Mobile carriers are moving into the mobile messenger field after wrestling with the surging popularity of existing mobile messengers which they claim have jammed networks and snatched away data fees.

KT Corp., the country’s largest fixed-line service operator, released its own communication tool called “olleh talk” on Thursday.

SK Telecom is also looking into introducing a mobile chat service as early as September and LG Uplus launched its mobile messaging service “Wagle” in January of this year.

Apple Inc. also announced earlier on Monday that it will unveil an application that will enable iPhone and iPad users to send free text messages to other Apple device users over the Internet.

“The mobile messenger service is inevitably a sector that needs to be tackled by the mobile carriers,” said Ahn Jae-min, an analyst at Kiwoom Securities. “The market for short message service, or mobile text message, is a shrinking one, which is why they need to brace for the situation.”

Ahn, however, added that the telecoms need to act quickly since there are other firms, such as Kakao Talk, that have already established their position in the market.

The number of people using the No. 1 free mobile messenger Kakao Talk has topped 13 million recently, indicating that almost everyone with a smartphone in the country has downloaded the application to their mobile phones.

“The biggest reason Kakao Talk is feared by others is because its business model is one that could impact the mobile carriers’ sales and profit figures and it’s expanding rapidly among people since it’s free of charge,” said an industry source.

KT’s new communication tool allows anyone to use the service, meaning those subscribed to SKT and LG Uplus services are also granted access.

The service is similar to that offered by Kakao Talk, but it also connects with other social networking services like Facebook and Twitter, as well as a private mobile homepage and other caf functions for small community-level talks, company officials said.

KT’s biggest rival SKT is also planning to unveil an upgraded communication service for its users this year.

When searching for a contact’s name in a smartphone, the user will be able to choose from many options ― voice call, text message, video call, mobile chat or a social networking service.

“There will be no need to download an application like Kakao Talk and people would be able to us the mobile messenger service even if they don’t know how to use a mobile app,” said an SKT official.

Meanwhile, LG Uplus opened its mobile messenger service early this year with the number of people subscribed to the service recently reaching 70,000, an LG Uplus official said.

The service, which is available to all smartphone owners, allows people to form interest groups to communicate and share information.

By Cho Ji-hyun (sharon@heraldcorp.com)
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