The increasing popularity of third-party messaging apps such as WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and Skype is beginning to eat into the SMS volumes of operators in mature markets, says Wireless Intelligence.

The trend is highlighted in new figures from the Dutch telecoms regulator, OPTA, which shows a significant decline in the number of SMS sent in the Netherlands in the first half of 2011 compared to the previous six-month period. Netherlands SMS decline

The country’s largest operator, KPN, has also reported declining year-on-year messaging volumes over the last few quarters due to what it calls “changing customer behaviour.” SMS under pressure

According to OPTA, the total number of SMS sent in the Netherlands stood at 5.7 billion for the first six months of the year, down 2.5 percent from 5.9 billion in 2H 2010, even though total SMS revenue rose slightly (0.6 percent) to EUR378 million during the period.

This was also the first six-month period in which the number of SMS messages sent fell relative to the previous six-month period (-2.5 percent).

The fact that the turnover of SMS services nevertheless increased slightly could be explained (in combination with the increasing number of mobile connections) by the fact that consumers purchased more SMS messaging capacity as part of their subscription than they actually used. Breakage drives revenue change

Total data revenue grew 16 percent over the period to EUR405 million, surpassing SMS revenue. In terms of volume (using a base measure of 1MB of data versus one SMS), data is now also larger than SMS, growing 24 percent to 5.9 billion (megabytes) in 1H 2011.

Wireless Intelligence has also identified declines in SMS volumes over the same period in markets such as France, Ireland, Spain and Portugal.

Outgoing text messages per customer decreased by 24 percent year-on-year in the Hi brand in the third quarter of 2011, and by five percent year-on-year in the KPN brand.

According to Wireless Intelligence estimates, the average number of text messages sent per user at KPN declined from 49 in the third quarter of 2010 to 32 in the third quarter of 2011.

Lower SMS usage was also cited as a key factor behind an 11 percent decline in mobile service revenue at the operator in the third quarter of 2011, to EUR395 million.

Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile reported a 6.8 percent year-on-year decline in mobile service revenue at its Dutch unit in the second quarter of 2011, to EUR357 million.

But SMS revenue had grown eight percent over the period and T-Mobile executives claim they have seen no cannibalization of the messaging business.

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