Text Messages: No Longer the Domain of Carriers

Although it may stagger some knowing the world has more than five billion mobile device subscriptions, that number is dwarfed by the number of text messages sent worldwide. The International Telecommunications Union estimates 6.1 trillion SMS and texts will be sent this year, while ABI Research figures that number will surpass 7 trillion in 2011. Such numbers are good for the carriers since texts are huge profit generators, but there’s plenty of opportunity for third parties too.

Take textPlus from GOGII, for example, a messaging application for iOS and Android devices available in both a free (ad-supported) and a paid version. The software brings text messaging functionality both to phones and non-phone devices, such as the Apple’s (s aapl) iPad and iPod touch as well as my Samsung Galaxy Tab. Even though phones have their own messaging app, textPlus brings advanced features such as group texts and communities of topic-driven mobile chat. TextPlus may be dwarfed by the overall messaging market, but its numbers for 2010 are still impressive:

  • The latest iteration of the app, textPlus 4, is adding about 50,000 users per day, with more than 300,000 new users added on Christmas day.
  • Those new users jumped right in on Christmas: textPlus delivered 190 messages per second for a one-day total of 32 million messages.
  • Over 5 billion messages will be served by textPlus this year, and the application has seen 11.5 million downloads.

I have an open question in to GOGII about the revenue stream generated by textPlus, as I suspect the majority of users opt for the free, ad-supported version. If that’s the case, the application is at the mercy of users who may or may not click an ad, but those 32 million messages on Christmas gave the company a large number of click-through opportunities, to be sure.

It impresses me that companies such as GOGII are finding ways to monetize services that were once relegated solely to the domain of carriers. Part of the strategy is getting to customers before network operators do.

Case in point: My 10-year-old step-daughter and her friends use messaging apps like this because most of them don’t have phones and yet they want to communicate with their friends the same way we adults do. And parents don’t want to start the kids on phones too early, nor do they want the monthly bill. Instead, kids are using computers, iPod touches and other connected devices, bringing texting to a younger audience before they even get phones.

Perhaps the huge numbers from third-party text messaging services shouldn’t surprise me; I actually can’t remember the last time I sent a text directly through my carrier. Once I got a Google Voice (s goog) number, I’ve sent all of my texts for free directly through Google using both Android mobile devices and a Google Voice extension in my computer browser. Maybe I’m getting down with the hip, younger crowd again?

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