Traditional SMS text messaging appears to be losing steam in the People’s Republic of China.

According to a report from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), overall use of traditional SMS messaging services has experienced an annual increase of 0.5%. However, when mass texts sent to multiple users are removed from this figure, person-to-person text messaging in the country has in fact decreased by 11%.

These figures arrive at a time when the nation’s telecom service providers have attracted scrutiny upon the MIIT’s announcement it may impose fees on WeChat, China’s leading free mobile messaging service. The service providers are state-owned enterprises that operate in association with the ministry.

The report provides context for the controversy, which has attracted attention from both domestic media and the international China-watching community.

According to MIIT’s report: in first quarter of this year, over 230 billion text messages were sent, marking an increase of 0.5 percent when compared to the same time last year. Within this aggregated amount, over 120 billion were from one person to another, marking a drop of 10.9% when compared to last year’s figure for the same time period. Furthermore, the average user sent 52.6 person-to-person texts from January through March this year, marking a sizeable decrease of 11.2% when compared to last year’s matching period.

Meanwhile, use of mobile messaging apps such WeChat has steadily increased in China.  During first quarter of this year, over 22 billion mobile instant messages were sent, up 37.6 percent from last year. Among this figure, over 1.3 billion were peer-to-peer, up 15.6 percent from last year.  The average user sent 2.1 mobile instant messages in this period, up 11.2 percent from last year.

The report also notes that overall usage of the mobile internet is has risen 56.5 percent from last year.

As others have noted, the bitterness between Chinese telecom service providers and WeChat isn’t just significant because it illustrates the rise of mobile instant messaging over traditional SMS – it’s also an example of powerful state-owned enterprises making fists at a fast-growing, privately-owned technology firm.

WeChat has over 400 million users and remains wildly popular in China. The service is currently free, though a recent survey indicated that 90 percent of its users would abandon the service were it to begin charging fees.

Earlier this week, China Mobile, the nation’s leading telecom service provider, announced it would be taking bids from third party to revamp Fetion, the company’s internal mobile messaging service.

Image Credit: WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images