Soon after plans were revealed for domestic telecom service China Unicom to introduce a new SIM card that includes an independent data package for WeChat and all of its related services, China Telecom is reportedly rolling out a plan that includes 2GB worth of data specifically for WeChat and Sina Weibo.
According to Phoenix New Media (hat-tip Tech in Asia), China Telecom’s subsidiary in Guangdong Province will be launching the data plan in August, which will be priced at RMB 6 (about $1) per month. This compares with the CNY36 (about $5) that China Unicom is charging its users for to purchase a SIM card that gives them a certain amount data usage on WeChat, though the exact amount has been unclear.
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China Telecom’s data plan will reportedly come attached to its Fly Young plan, which — at RMB 19 per month — comes with 80 minutes worth of talktime, 80 messages that can be sent within the country, 20MB of mobile Internet, and 8 hours of WiFi access.
WeChat has attracted the ire of Chinese telecoms for allegedly stealing users away from traditional SMS. China Telecom’s move is a surprise turn-around, considering that a report emerged in March this year noting that users of WeChat — owned by Chinese Internet giant Tencent — may have to pay fees in future to satisfy China’s three mobile telecom operators.
The Phoenix New Media report says that China Telecom had previously actually rolled out a 1 GB data plan for WeChat and another 1 GB data plan for Sina Weibo, for RMB 5 each, but that did not get eyeballs due to the lack of promotion over “sensitive issues.”
The telecom provider’s latest move adds credence to the fact that WeChat is now China’s reigning leader in OTT messaging, and Chinese telecom operators are recognizing that widespread OTT messaging is effectively replacing SMS, so it would be best to turn WeChat into an incentive for users to switch providers. It also recognizes that users tend to heavily consume data on services such as WeChat and Sina Weibo, and bundling them into a separate data plan would appeal to them.
WeChat has over 400 million users, most of whom reside in China, though it’s increasingly picking up momentum internationally: the company announced earlier this month that it has over 70 million overseas users. Sina Weibo has more than 400 million registered users and the service enjoys a large profile in China.
So far, China Mobile seems to be the only telecom provider in mainland China insistent on holding out against WeChat’s dominance, given that it recently consolidated its chat apps in a concerted push to fight back against WeChat.
Image Credit: Ed Jones via AFP/Getty Images