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VoLTE/Rich communications

Operators Can't Kik the OTT Habit

Do you Kik? Ever even heard of it? Maybe not unless you're under the age of 20, but it's the latest over-the-top (OTT) platform to join the 100 million club and give the operators a run for their SMS revenues.

The mobile messaging app announced today that it has more than 100 million registered users, triple what it had this time last year. The app has been around since 2010, but Kik CEO Ted Livingston tells CNet it's now signing up around 250,000 new registrants every day, primarily teens in the US.

Kik is essentially another SMS alternative, but it lets its users pick a user name rather than use their phone number. So you can give out your Kik name over other popular OTT sites such as Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter to chat without having to reveal your phone number. People aren't using it because of the expense of SMS, but because it's more fun.

Kik is also using open APIs to let third-party developers build apps on top of the messaging service for games, music-sharing, or location-based services. One game, Costume Party, a mobile version of Pictionary for Kik users, already has around 4 million users.

One-hundred million may not carry the weight that it used to -- WeChat and Line have around 300 million, and KakaoTalk, Viber, and Tango have all cracked 100 million -- but what's remarkable to me is the level of innovation that continuously comes from the OTT camp, as well as the success that so many of them are having. Kik is now getting more downloads than another OTT success WhatsApp in the US, but WhatsApp is managing to hold on to more than 350 million users.

The traditional knock on OTTs is that they can't achieve ubiquity, like SMS, but that is increasingly becoming a moot point. It's also becoming clear that this type of innovation won't (ever?) come from the wireless operators. The smart ones are striking partnerships in the space, but even those, like Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) with Jibe, don't even come close. Frankly, even Telefonica Digital's much-heralded homegrown Tu Go service that lets you text from your tablet is boring in comparison to what the OTTs are doing. (See Sprint Jibes With OTT Comms, Genband Acquires fring to Help CSPs Go OTT, Meet Voxox, the OTT CLEC, and Et Tu, Telefónica?)

I'm not sure what the answer is here. I've come to realize it's just not in operators' DNA to be this innovative. I would suggest that they partner, but I'm not sure a company such as Kik or WhatsApp would be interested. SMS certainly isn't dying, but it's also not thriving, and OTTs continue to point out how much it lacks.

The operators could learn a lot from these OTT players, and, if they're smart, they'll play close attention to how the next generation of mobile users chooses to communicate.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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