Shortly after WeChat released its standalone VoIP app, another Chinese internet giant – this time Qihoo 360 – targeted this sector and launched a free voice call app. 360 Free Call (our translation) was released today, and was developed by the team which runs Qihoo’s 360 Phonebook.

To enjoy free voice calls, most Chinese VoIP services require both parties to download the app and stay online. The app differentiates itself in only requiring the calling party to be online and have installed the app, which means calls are free even if the call recipients are offline or don’t have the app.

Best known for its keyboard app, TouchPal released a free voice call feature for its lifestyle app in October. Like 360 Free Call, the app also frees call recipients from internet connection and app download restrictions. Upon the release of its iOS version this week, TouchPal announced its Android app’s user demographics after two months of availability. Some 82% of the users are male, while 73% are aged between 19 to 39.

The emergence of IM apps like WeChat has long been posing threats to telecom carriers, who have seen substantial declines in their text messaging revenues. The rise of VoIP service may further reduce their voice call business, historically one of their major revenue sources.

To fend off competition, the telecom operators are turning to data plans as their major revenue stream. The Guangdong branch of China Unicom partnered up WeChat to release WeChat Wo SIM card, which offers higher discounts on data plans. China Telecom has cooperated with NeteEase, with their joint venture’s messaging app EasyChat offering a certain amount of international calls for free. Alibaba has also teamed up with telecom carriers to offer free data plan for Laiwang and Mobile Taobao.

Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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