European operators partnering with OTT messaging vendors - albeit tentatively

It's no secret that over-the-top messaging providers like Viber, WhatsApp and Line are commanding an increasing share of mobile users' messaging traffic--a lead that has cut into operators' SMS revenues. Further, OTT players are rushing to expand their offerings to include movies, books and, in some cases, voice calling services. In response, European wireless operators are in the midst of finding ways to partner with OTT messaging providers to find some common ground.

For example, Nimbuzz is in talks with a leading European operator and expects to be launching a co-branded partnership in around four to six weeks. And Japan-based OTT messaging provider Line, which today counts 400 million registered users, has already reached a deal with Telefónica to provide messaging services on Firefox OS-based mobile phones. And Line said it is in talks with other operators in markets such as France and Germany.

But that doesn't mean operators are planning to take a backseat in the market for calling and messaging: "In round one of OTT, WhatsApp won. That's OK; that's the first round," said Ian Small, the former CEO of WebRTC specialist TokBox who is now responsible for all of Telefónica 's future communications services. "We're doing 'over the telco'; taking the best bits of telcos and OTT. You have to have a nuanced view of OTT; you have to decide where to partner, where to lead, where to compete."

For more on this topic, check out this FierceWirelessEurope special report.