It was only a matter of time before the over-the-top messaging apps got tired of upturning the mobile carriers’ SMS businesses and developed ambitions of becoming carriers themselves. WhatsApp is getting its own prepaid SIM card on Germany’s E-Plus, which combines unlimited WhatsApp usage with a small bundle of traditional mobile voice, data and text messages for €10 ($13.80).
WhatsApp CEO and co-founder Jan Koum announced the partnership at Mobile World Congress in February, but TechCrunch and German media spotted the launch of the service on E-Plus’s website on Monday. The deal isn’t your typical mobile virtual network operator deal because WhatsApp isn’t supplanting E-Plus’s brand and selling voice and data directly to consumers. But the partnership is unique in that the prepaid service seems to focus on WhatsApp as the primary mode of communication. As WhatsApp rolls out its planned voice services this quarter, that focus could become even tighter.
We’re starting to see examples of messaging and social media companies working closely with carriers around the world. WhatsApp’s future corporate parent has led that charge. In the past Facebook penned deals with carriers like Orange to exempt its social networking traffic from customer’s data plans in its North African and Eastern European markets. And as part of its internet.org initiative, Facebook is working with Globe in the Philippines and Tigo in Paraguay to provide free or subsidized Facebook access to their customers.
In some cases OTT apps are becoming true MVNOs. In the U.S., TextNow started out as an IP messaging and VoIP provider targeting customers with iPod touches and other data only devices. But thanks to a wholesale deal with Sprint, TextNow has become an all-IP mobile carrier.