News from WhatsApp continues to incite speculation around Facebook’s strategy for the platform: on April 7th, the company announced that it was partnering with mobile operator E-Plus to sell prepaid SIM cards. Starting at 10 euros a month, users can make voice calls, text, and access data, all via the WhatsApp interface. Essentially, this will make WhatsApp a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO)—a carrier that buys coverage from other mobile network operators, without owning the infrastructure.
This move fits with parent company Facebook’s pattern of experimentation in the mobile space. In April 2013, they launched the ill-fated “Facebook phone,” the HTC First, which dropped in price from $99 to $0.99 within a month of its release, ultimately being pulled from the market. This may have caused them to reassess their approach, as in August 2013, Facebook helped launched Internet.org, a consortium dedicated to bringing the Internet to consumers worldwide. As they noted in “Connecting the World from the Sky:”
“By working together with operators to drive awareness and demand for
internet services, and by collaborating on new models for access that decrease the cost of data, we think we can bring billions more people onto the internet over the next few years.”
Furthermore, Facebook has partnered with mobile operators in the Philippines and Paraguay to provide users with free access to their app.
Facebook and WhatsApp are clearly attempting to bring more people on their network, and once there, keep them within the ecosystem. The more touchpoints they have with users, the more valuable they are to advertisers. It’s not difficult to imagine Facebook giving away SIM cards in the US that exclusively access Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, for instance. The ecosystem also gives them more opportunities to introduce existing consumers to new features or upsell them—it’s a great opportunity for WhatsApp to test out their new voice feature.
The IPG Media Lab will continue to follow developments in the messaging space.