The recent acquisitions of WhatsApp by Facebook and Viber by Rakuten signal that social communications, and particularly messaging, are becoming a core part of OTT services.
That's according to industry analyst Ovum, regardless of whether their primary focus is social networking, gaming, or even commerce.
So much so that Ovum expects a wave of consolidation to occur in the social messaging industry in 2014, and some players will become formidable forces with their new backing.
The next five years will be crucial for mobile operators in terms of both their messaging solutions and their overall communications suites as the handset balance tips in favour of smartphones.
As more of the mobile subscriber base becomes able to access data services there will be an even stronger migration toward social messaging services and beyond, according to global analyst firm Ovum.
In a recent report, Ovum outlines its expectation that data and social messaging services will have over 2.6 billion subscribers by 2015. In addition to the growth in subscribers, the entire industry will see a widening in the breadth of services offered by messaging.
“Operators should work closely with OTT players and device vendors to create services that go beyond traditional communications, leverage operator strengths, are device agnostic, and can be sold to their consumers as subscription packages," says Neha Dharia, a consumer telecoms analyst, Ovum.
“Social messaging is a snapshot of things to come, and the traditional scope of messaging is already being tested – payments, media sharing, and location are all being added to messaging platforms.
"In the long run, the opportunities for communications and messaging in particular are limitless, from motion sensors to gesture recognition to virtual screens projected on any surface.”
According to Dharia, the growth of social messaging has set off alarm bells for several mobile operators and vendors.
The industry realizes that it is time for messaging to use the IP channel to move beyond pure text to a media-rich experience. Operators have introduced a series of initiatives around pricing, WebRTC, RCS, and, of course, operator led apps.
The key hurdle lies in operators trying to catch up with social messaging players, and they must study the growth of OTT communications and create future-proof services.
Ovum’s report A Guide to the Future of Mobile Messaging sheds light on when current technologies are likely to mature, and which technologies are likely disruptors to the status quo. It provides guidance for operators, vendors, and even OTT players on how to plan for the future.
The messaging industry is evolving at a rapid pace, which makes it important to understand the direction of its evolution. Services such as email will have less significance in peer-to-peer communication within messaging.
This is not to say that email will no longer exist, but it will change its service proposition, perhaps being amalgamated with other services such as social networking.
“In 2014 we can expect a range of new services to be included on messaging platforms; we will see them grow beyond messaging into complete mobile media platforms," Dharia adds.
"In fact, in the near future the services offered will be voice calls, video calls, messaging, and utility services that are intuitive to users’ needs and move seamlessly between devices.
“Within 10 years messaging and communications services will become intuitive and will involve less human instruction.
"Services will be able to choose the communications channel most suited for a particular conversation, and will switch between media sharing, video, and text messaging depending on the user’s needs.
“In the long run, operators will have to reimagine communications, moving it from the core function to a platform supporting a range of other service.
"It will in essence be a device-agnostic platform that the user’s digital world will plug into."