Why SMS hasn't died in the era of messaging apps

SMS is not dead yet even as the ubiquity of OTT services are cementing in Africa. Here's why.

The entry of over the top (OTT) services such as WhatsApp and Viber, gave major telecom companies in Africa and their governments a reason of concern. For the telcos, their SMS revenues would drop as more users opt to use "free" messaging apps.

Such services solely rely on internet connection and do not have a backhaul of infrastructure the telcos have to put up and maintain. In Ethiopia the government planned to charge OTT apps users because they were affecting income for the state owned EthioTelecom.

However, years after the introduction of WhatsApp and other messaging apps, their cannibalisation of short message service (SMS) is yet to be felt, especially in Africa. Both Kenya's leading telco Safaricom and Telkom Kenya have offered free WhatsApp bundle for their users, indicating that the domination of messaging services has been highly exaggerated - at least for now.

Even though access to WhatsApp needs data that increases the telco's data margins, there seems to be little change on its effect on SMS. According to the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA), the body that regulates telecom companies, there is still an increase in SMS usage across the country.

In their second quarter for year 2018/19 (October to December 2018) there were over 17 billion net SMS compared to the previous quarter (July to September 2018) where they recorded over 14 billion on net SMS.

In contrast, in 2016 there was a 19.7 percent drop in SMS use and the telcos attributed it to the use of OTT messaging apps. During the period from January to March, the CA recorded only 6.5 billion messages, down from 8.1 billion in the previous quarter. 

"The significant drop of SMS traffic could be attributed to the popular use of Over-The-Top (OTT) services like WhatsApp, Hangouts, among others," said a statement from the Communication Authority of Kenya in 2016.

To continue reading this article register now