A fortnight after it agreed to a landmark operator deal in Hong Kong, WhatsApp has stepped up its presence in India where it has partnered with Reliance to offer unlimited use of its BBM-alternative messaging service for college students.

The fruits of the coming-together — Reliance’s College Package, spotted by PluggdIn – is a pre-paid plan that gives students unlimited access to WhatsApp’s instant messaging service, and Facebook, for just INR 16 ($0.30) per month. Calls and SMS are not included but, given the growing popularity of WhatsApp, the omission of the latter is unlikely to bother a lot of the target audience.

WhatsApp emulates RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger service, which allows BlackBerry owners to send and receive an unlimited number of messages worldwide for free with no charge. The difference however is that Reliance’s student customers can chat to friends on multiple platforms, since WhatsApp is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and even seleted basic Nokia handset owners.

whatsapp 520x352 WhatsApp swots up in India with unlimited deal for college going Reliance customersThe messaging service is regularly accused of ‘stealing’ SMS revenue from operators. These are claims that the company has denied, insisting that it can help carriers grow data revenues and increase smartphone adoption – as its deals in India and Hong Kong show.

WhatsApp itself has plenty to gain through the deal since, alongside RIM’s BBM, it is also battling a number of other multi-platform messaging startups. India’s own Nimbuzz passed 100 million users worldwide this summer — the vast majority of which are in its home country — while WeChat (200 million users), KakaoTalk (55 million) and Line (60 million) are aggressively growing their numbers in Asia.

The services are initially targeting Southeast Asia but India, and its 1.2 billion population, is also a focus.

WhatsApp is pushing its services in a range of Asian countries where it has deals with operators, such as Thailand and Indonesia. In the latter country, top operator Telekomsel added the chat service — alongside Line and KakaoTalk — to a $3 unlimited monthly plan.

BlackBerry has sharpened its focus on India this year — having doubled its sales presence and launched new budget devices, but Samsung is among the brands that is leading the charge for Android-powered devices in the country.

Image via Shutterstock / Christopher Elwell