The humble SMS: for a long time it's been the mobile network's best friend, a no-cost add-on that's equated to little more than a licence to print money.
But no longer – the new generation of app-driven instant messaging services headed up by WhatsApp are now officially accounting for more messages per day than old-school text messages.
Research firm Informa has revealed that cumulatively, 19 billion messages a day were sent using instant messaging apps in 2012, versus 17.6bn SMS text messages.
By 2014, the firm predicts, the figure for WhatsApp and the like will be approaching 50bn a day. What's interesting, though, is that SMS too is expected to increase, although not as drastically, to just over 21bn messages per day.
What has change, however, is how much money networks are making from SMS. Informa says networks are “seeing a decline in their messaging revenues” because of chat applications. Ovum is prepared to put a figure on the cash drain, saying networks lost out on a massive £15bn of SMS revenue last year because of chat applications.
As you'd expect, it's mainly emerging markets that will be keeping the old-school text message in business for the immediate future. “There is a lot of life still in SMS,” Informa's Pamela Clark-Dickson predicted.
Markets where mobile data plans – messaging apps rely on a web connection, don't forget – are either non-existent, or prohibitively expensive, are going to keep the SMS in business for a while yet.
“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,” Clark-Dickson said.