WhatsApp said it will be introducing a new video calling service to its over 1 billion users worldwide on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The OTT provider stated that the service is meant for every type of phone, from the most expensive to the least expensive. The service will be rolled out to all users over the next few days. According to reports, during a video call, users will be able to switch between the forward-facing and rear-facing cameras, mute the call or press the red button to hang up. WhatsApp, which currently offers messaging and voice calling, says that video calling has been one of the most-requested features from users.
As we have noted frequently in these pages, free or nearly-free OTT services that compete with the offerings of MNOs have been proliferating over the past several years, posing a challenge to the mobile operators. Along with Skype, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has been one of the most vigorous challengers, fueled by its huge worldwide base of subscribers. First with text messaging, then with voice calling, it offered services that closely paralleled or duplicated those of mobile operators. The expansion of high-speed LTE networks (built with the investment of the MNOs) and the increasing availability of budget smartphones have made video calling a possibility for a vast number of users worldwide, so the time is right for WhatsApp to offer it. In this case, however, we do not see it being as significant a competitor to MNOs as with its earlier offerings. While some mobile operators have created native video calling services, for the most part consumers rely on third-party apps for video calling. Probably the company that will be most threatened by WhatsApp’s new offering is Apple, whose FaceTime feature enjoys great popularity. WhatsApp video calling is platform-agnostic, and therefore users no longer have to buy an iPhone to make video calls. The question will be how high the quality of the calls will be, and that will have a great effect on the uptake rate for WhatsApp’s video calling service.
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