Singtel yesterday launched a WhatsApp-cum-Skype hybrid - hoping to compete with the numerous mobile apps offering free calls, which are eating into telcos' voice revenues.
But experts here say Singtel's efforts may be a case of too little, too late.
The new app called Wavee lets users create chat groups and share photos and videos, like WhatsApp; make video calls to one another, like Skype; plus send stickers and emoticons, like Viber and Line.
As with all of these other mobile messaging apps, Wavee to Wavee calls are free if users have Wi-Fi, and people need only pay the cost of mobile data usage if they are connecting via their 3G/4G cellular service. Singtel has also waived the data charge for its customers until July 9.
An upcoming update will also let Wavee users make calls to mobile and landline phone numbers, in a service similar to the SkypeOut and ViberOut features in Skype and Viber.
Users can also choose to let Wavee handle its SMS messaging service, combining both SMS and Wavee chat messages into a common message log.
Singtel is trying to combine the best features of the various apps into the "all-in-one" Wavee, though it is missing out on some features, including Skype's ability to launch a multi- party video call.
Telcos around the world are having their IDD voice and SMS revenues ravaged by mobile messaging apps. In fact, London- based research firm Ovum predicted last year that the entire telecoms industry would have lost a massive US$386 billion (S$524 billion) to these apps between 2012 and 2018.
So companies like Singtel are trying to fight back by focusing on selling more mobile data instead of voice.
But Mr Mike Ang, president of the Association of Telecommunications Industry of Singapore, said that Singtel is facing an uphill battle.
"There are already dominant apps in every country. In Singapore and Malaysia, it is
WhatsApp, China has WeChat, while Line is strong in Thailand," he said. "It will be tough for Singtel to break each incumbent's foothold."
While a strong differentiating factor like encrypted-messaging might do the trick, there was nothing really special about Wavee, he said. "Even if Singtel can break into the Singapore market, what about overseas? This is a universal game, not a local one. What if I want to communicate with my friends in Malaysia?"
Mr Clement Teo, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, agreed.
While existing apps may not combine so many features into one like Wavee, the dominant apps have already perfected their winning features, he noted. So a new player like Singtel will find it tough to be better than the market leaders in their respective strengths.
Added Mr Teo: "In the end, Singtel may want a product that can be everything to everyone, but it may well end up being nothing to anyone."
Singtel's "defensive" move to counter the messaging apps avalanche may make some headway, however, if it includes cheap data roaming plans for Wavee users, he said.
The telco's first hurdle will be simply to get people to download its app.
An avid app user, Mr Aaron Koh, 39, was among the first users to install Wavee yesterday.
He waited for about five minutes for the app to scan all of the more than 400 contacts in his phone's address book. But no one else he knew had installed Wavee.
"I couldn't use it because I had nobody to talk to," said the 39-year-old marketing manager.
"In my view, it is really too little, too late."
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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