Sprint goes OTT with 'Messaging Plus' app from Jibe

Sprint (NYSE:S) today launched its new "Messaging Plus" app for Android and iOS phones. The app allows customers to communicate via text, instant messaging, group messaging and video chat, and share photos, videos and files, with any other mobile phone user in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Sprint said it is the first national wireless carrier to enable "cloud-based enhanced messaging features on select smartphones."

The app is available through Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS App Store, and can work across iPhones and newer HTC and Samsung Android smartphones. Sprint said it would pre-load the app on all of its future Android phones. The app was built by Jibe Mobile.

MetroPCS launched its similar joyn-branded Rich Communications Services messaging app last year, prior to its acquisition by T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS).

Sprint last month said it would "soon" offer a service based on the RCS 5.1 messaging standard--and the carrier's new Messaging Plus app is likely that. Sprint wasn't immediately available to answer questions on the topic.

Sprint is one of a number of carriers that are releasing their own messaging applications. Such applications represent an upgrade to operators' legacy SMS services, which only support text messages. Moreover, these apps stand in response to the rise of over-the-top messaging providers like Viber and WhatsApp, which have accumulated millions of users worldwide by offering a free alternative to wireless carrier text messaging services. OTT services also have cut into the profits carriers made from the popularity of text messaging.

Partly in response to the popularity of OTT apps, the GSMA introduced the RCS-powered joyn service, which allows operators to offer picture and video messaging services under their own brand, thereby potentially recapturing some of the messages traveling over OTT vendors like WhatsApp. However, consumers across the globe will send 41 billion over-the-top mobile messages per day by the end of 2013, compared to an average of 19.5 billion peer-to-peer SMS, according to a recent forecast issued by research firm Informa Telecoms & Media. OTT traffic has already eclipsed SMS in terms of daily messaging volume; consumers sent an average of 19.1 billion OTT messages per day in 2012, compared to 17.6 billion messages via SMS.

Indeed, WhatsApp alone now boasts more than 300 million monthly active users, up from 250 million in June 2013; users send 11 billion messages and receive 20 billion per day (totals determined separately because some messages are sent to multiple recipients), increasing from a combined 27 billion two months ago.

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