More mobile phone owners are using in-app chat and messaging services rather than traditional SMS text messaging, says a report by research firm Informa.
The company claims that 17.6 billion mobile phone text messages were sent worldwide on average each day in 2012, but 19 billion "free" messages a day were sent over chat applications, such as WhatsApp and BBM, and Apple's iMessage service.
Informa also expects chat messaging to grow further over. It claims that by 2014, 50 billion in-app chat messages will be sent daily, in comparison to 21 billion SMS text messages. However, although it will clearly be dwarfed by usage of the free services, SMS still has a future.
"There is a lot of life still in SMS," said analyst Pamela Clark-Dickson of Informa, who explained that users in developing and less economically stable countries would continue to use the format for the foreseeable future. "They don't have mobile data plans, so there is an awfully big base of mobile phone users who are going to still find that SMS is the best messaging experience for them for a while."
How this will affect the networks is not yet clear. Although many monthly tariffs include unlimited text messages, pay-as-you-go mobile phone payment plans and text messaging fees still account for a large amount of revenue earned by mobile operators. And separate research firm Ovum estimate that more than £15 billion was lost in SMS revenue thanks to instant messaging apps.
Perhaps competitive 4G data plans, in the UK at least, will make up the shortfall.