updated 09:41 pm EST, Mon November 12, 2012
Downward trend in carrier messaging to continue
For the first time in years, US text messaging was down in the third quarter of 2012, largely due to services such as iMessage. According to mobile analyst Chetan Sharma, users sent an average of 678 texts per month, down from 696 the previous quarter. While only a small change, the move reflects a shift primarily among smartphone users to services such as iMessage and Facebook Messenger as alternatives to traditional carrier-based SMS. Though many modern cell phone plans feature unlimited messaging, SMS is still a major profit driver for most carriers.
Some carriers, such as AT&T, have responded to data-based messaging programs such as Yahoo Messenger and iMessage with further restrictions or price hikes on data. in July, AT&T changed its data plans to substantially raise rates for significant data users. The change in US text messaging has been reflected elsewhere, as more people adopt smart phones and thus gain access to programs that let them bypass traditional SMS messaging.
Apple's iMessage in particular has proven a popular alternative for users of iOS devices, as it allows them to communicate either with text or video on both 3G/LTE and Wi-Fi networks without charge, even across international borders. International texting has up until now been a major source of profits for most carriers, but the increasing reliance on data creates an even more profitable window for carriers -- so it remains to be seen if any decline in texting revenues will ultimately affect their profitability.
Mobile data, according to Sharma, now makes up almost 43 percent of US cell phone carrier revenues. While statistics from one quarter's data is not sufficient to portend a trend, the worldwide drop in SMS messaging, along with the increase in data use caused by more extensive use of video-conferencing using services such as FaceTime, could signal a continuing shift as more smartphone users rely on Siri, other dictation programs, video and alternative-text programs for short-form communication with friends and colleagues.