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Text messaging slowly dying

Saturday 8 Dec 2012 6:48 p.m.

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The text, which you pay up to 20 cents to send, has just celebrated 20 years, but its demise could come sooner than anyone predicted.

Text killers are coming in the shape of "free" over-the-top, or OTT, providers, like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and iMessage, and experts say as more of us get smart phones, carriers will be forced to adapt or die.

Angel Ayega never texts. He barely places network calls. He has alternatives.

“The free applications of course, like Whatapp, Facebook,” he says. “Those messages that are free – Viber, for example.”

In the new year, half of Kiwi phone owners will be on smart phones with access to the over-the-top services that have made texting obsolete elsewhere.

New OTT apps are coming thick and fast.

Facebook Messenger will arrive here in the coming weeks. You don't have to be on the social network, just to provide a name and phone number and you can send free messages

This leaves telcos facing a new world order.

“If they do not change the business model, they'll see SMS decline,” says IDC analyst Dustin Kehoe. “They'll see voice decline. They'll see data get cheaper. A whole range of things will slowly chip away at their business and that will be the consequence of inaction.”

2degrees is already offering all-you-can-eat texts, and has faith in growing demand for photos and video on the move.

“You need to recognise that data is the future,” says 2degrees chief marketing officer Malcolm Phillips. “Mobile internet is what consumers want and what they're really discovering, which is why smart phones are so popular at the moment.”

The trouble is, data makes far less profit than voice and text. So the Telecom Users Association says carriers should stick to their knitting.

“They're not going to be able to make money from voice, from text messaging, from international calling, all of that kind of thing,” says TUANZ chief executive Paul Brislen. “It's just all going to disappear. So for them, they really do need to cut their costs. They need to get rid of the big waterfront buildings. They need to get rid of the marketing department and the sales teams. They've got to focus on their job, which is to provide the best network for their customers.”

In the business, the network's known as the dumb-pipe, but in the age of smart phones, smart carriers will have to ensure that pipe's super quick.

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