Carriers may hate WhatsApp but wait till they see what’s next!

UPDATED: The co-founder of WhatsApp, the popular messaging app that’s sucking billions in operator revenue, says he thinks his app is a benefit to wireless operators because it gets users to subscribe to data plans. He also “intuits” that carriers are making enough money as it is. Maybe he doesn’t understand that on a per MB basis, texts net the operator 100 to 1,000 times more money than data does, or maybe he’s searching for a silver lining.

UPDATE: WhatsApp is currently working with carriers on deals to help them drum up more revenue from the messaging app. It has worked with Indonesia’s Telkomsel on new unlimited data plans for a WhatsApp and Opera Mini package.  (original story continues)

WhatsApp Co-founder Brian Acton told my colleague Ryan Kim in an interview yesterday, “The anecdotal stories we get from manufacturers is people are running into stores and demanding WhatsApp. The app is getting people to covert to smartphones from feature phones and getting them to set up data plans.”

So instead of putting the SMS horse back in the barn carriers need to focus not on WhatsApp but what’s next — the continued erosion of voice revenue as people talk less, message more and turn to IP services, even those within mobile apps. Thanks to services such as Twilio and Google Voice (s goog), it’s getting easier to bypass the carrier voice network altogether.

People generally call each other less, but even for calls they do make, such as checking that a business is open or maybe making an appointment, they may soon switch over to VoIP via a service like Twilio, which recently enabled iOS developers to add VoIP features to their apps. For example, a restaurant may include a click to call button in its app that uses VoIP dialing, which means all you need is a data plan. So while voice right now is “worthless,” many people still pay $35 to $70 a month for it in addition to their data plan. But smart carriers should keep an eye on in-app calling.

Some of them already are. A November survey from Telco 2.0 indicates that carriers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East thought voice revenue would decline by 21 percent on average over the next 3 years. About 44 percent of the delegates attending the Telco 2.0 session where the survey was conducted attributed the decline in voice to over-the-top alternatives.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ame Otoko.