Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.
Mobile messaging apps are enjoying increased time in the spotlight in Asia and one of the continent’s largest, Tencent-owned Weixin, is set to become the next service to offer its users free voice and video calls, according to a report from Technode.
The China-based blog has information about the upcoming version of the app — which has been downloaded more than 100 million times — and Weixin 4.2 will also include a Web-based service, entirely new look and layout, Bluetooth support and improved privacy, it says.
Korea’s Kakao Talk, Japan’s Line, US-service Viber and VoIP pioneer Skype are among those that already allow users to make free calls, and Weixin’s move is entirely logical in keeping up with the industry trend.
The app previously had push-to-talk messaging but the voice and video update is arguably the most significant of the changes, since it has the potential to further disrupt the revenues earned by operators in China.
A report from Niko suggests that China will have more gamers on mobile than PC — 192 million by the end of 2012 — and you can be sure that a large portion of those are regular app users, many of whom will have Weixin on their phones.
The potency of free calling was recently highlighted in Korea, where a number of operator have been throttling usage of messaging app Kakao Talk since it introduced a free calling feature at the beginning of June.
In Weixin’s case, Tencent — which is also a Kakao investor — has considerable reach and influence in China, so it will be interesting to see how the new feature is received by the country’s three operators.
With each carrier focused on pushing its 3G network and associated tariffs, cosying up to Weixin and its service, could be one way to encourage new ‘premium’ subscribers. However, that approach goes again the often-protectionist approach that carriers operators frequently adopt, as the Korean example demonstrates.
There’s no word on when the new Weixin will be outed, while it also isn’t clear if the new features will make their way to WeChat, the English version of the app marketed at users in overseas markets.
Feature image via Flickr / Images of Money, screenshot via Technode.
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