Apr 29 – The volume of traffic from chat-based apps like Blackberry Messenger and WhatsApp have reportedly surpassed SMS text messaging for the first time, based on new data released today from research firm Informa.

According to the report, in 2012 an average of 19.1 billion chat messages were sent per day, compared with an average of 17.6 billion SMS text messages. By the end of 2013, Informa estimates that 41 billion chat-based messages will be sent every day, compared with an average of 19.5 billion SMS messages.

It is believed this highlights the unprecedented growth that chat-based apps, like WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, Viber, Nimbuzz, Apple’s iMessage and KakaoTalk, have seen as they are increasingly adopted as cost-saving alternatives to SMS texting. In fact, last week Nokia announced its newest Asha 210 device, for its customers in Asia and Africa, will include a hardware key that takes the user directly to WhatsApp

The Informa report’s author, Pamela Clark-Dickson, said the adoption of chat-based apps has had a significant impact on mobile operators’ SMS traffic and revenues in some countries, including Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea. For example, mobile operators’ SMS revenues in Spain have declined dramatically, down from €1.1 billion (US$1.4 billion) in 2007 to €758.5 million in 2011.

Despite the new information, Informa adds that it’s unlikely SMS texting will completely die out anytime soon and forecasts that global SMS revenues and traffic will continue to increase through 2016.

Amr Shady, chief executive officer of Cairo-based mobile content provider TA Telecom agrees, saying that an independent survey conducted by his company determined that approximately 90 per cent of Africa’s 500 million phone users used feature phones and that SMS texting remained the preferred delivery mechanism of content on these devices and smartphones.

“It’s important not to assume that the same conditions for technology adoption exist in emerging markets as they do in the rest of the world,” said Shady. “The use of SMS in Africa is incredibly diverse and becoming increasingly entwined with cultural habits. Breaking news mobile content, for example, has a 52 per cent share of total content consumed in Arab Spring countries versus 7 per cent in more areas with less political change. Faith and religious information represents 30 per cent of content consumption across Africa. Similarly, sports has a consistent 10 to 12 per cent share.”

However, he too agrees that the rise of chat-based apps should serve as a warning to operators to stay in touch with what customers want from their mobile phones.