Is the rise of WeChat and weibos helping to slow SMS growth in China?

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When a country is home to more than a billion cellphone users, you start to expect the record growth to continue to every area of mobile. That’s why when you see a stat like ’2.1%’, it can look a bit odd. But according to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), that’s the percentage that SMS use increased in the country in 2012.

Yep, the figures themselves are still massive: Chinese users sent 897.3-billion SMSes last year, slightly up from the 878.8-billion messages that were sent in 2011. But with mobile phone penetration on the increase (it grew 11% last year), why hasn’t SMS skyrocketed too? It seems the answer may lie in the growth of internet-based messaging services and social media. In particular, Tencent’s popular WeChat app (known as Weixin in China), Sina and Tencent’s respective weibos and other social plays like QZone and Facebook clone RenRen.

According to Sina Tech (translated), the MIIT’s stats show that there are now over 1.1-billion mobile phone users in China, 760-million of them use SMS. But data is becoming a factor: the number of people using 2G and 3G capable phones is growing steadily, and services like WeChat and Sina Weibo boast 300-million and 400-million users respectively, with substantial Chinese user bases.

With some 420-million of China’s 564-million internet users accessing the web on their mobile phones, WhatsApp-like WeChat is becoming an alternative to SMS for anyone with an Android, Windows Phone, Nokia, BlackBerry or iOS device. Third party stats from We Are Social suggest China has 598-million social media accounts, and climbing. Operators non-voice revenue is also shrinking as replacements like video calling over WiFi or data come into play.

Ok, so it’s not really a WeChat-and-weibos-rock-and-are-killing-SMS moment quite yet, but it seems the battle is starting.

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