WeChat has revamped WeChat Address Book (our translation), which previously was for caller identification and contact backup only, with the addition of free voice calls. Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, recently also launched the voice call app Lighttalk, which is available in both Chinese and English.

The addition of call features is a natural step for mobile messaging apps. It’s widely agreed that LINE, the South Korean chat app, became successful in Japan because of the free calling feature (KaKao, LINE’s major competitor in South Korea, agree with this analysis). Free voice calls is a killer app in many developing countries. Talkray, whose selling point is free calls even with slow mobile internet connections, is popular in countries like India.

Chinese messaging apps are not blind. It was believed they hadn’t added VoIP calling through fear of offending the three state-owned Chinese telecom operators, for whom telephone call is historically one of their major revenue sources. But now the mobile internet trend is unstoppable. The three major telcos have all seen revenues from text messaging inexorably decline, thanks to WeChat and its peers.

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Tracey Xiang

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com