China’s three major telecommunications operators jointly launched Wednesday a 5G-powered messaging service. The service enables users to send rich communication messages using the next-generation wireless technology.

Why it matters: The feature could pose a big threat to existing instant messaging players such as WeChat by leveraging the huge user base of China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom.

  • The three carriers had a combined subscriber base of 1.6 billion as of the end of 2019, which is more than the country’s population.
  • The new feature is also likely to remove the barrier of rich communication services (RCS) between iOS and Android devices. The two ecosystems of mobile phones both have their RCS known as Apple’s iMessage and Android Messages. However, they don’t communicate with each other.

Details: The three state-owned carriers published Wednesday a 5G messaging service white paper advocating smartphone makers to support the new function and provided technical details on how to integrate it with their handsets.

  • The function is designed to replace current text messaging service with a system that allows mobile users to send text, images, voice messages, and files to their contacts without downloading any additional apps.
  • Users can also buy tickets and book flights by sending messages, according to the white paper. Other functions of the service include mobile payment, group chat, and services based on location.
  • Smartphone makers including Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, and Samsung have announced that their future handsets will be compatible with the service.

Context: The rise of instant messaging services such as WeChat means Chinese telcos are making less revenue from text messages. SMS income for Chinese carriers had been dropping consecutively from 2014 to 2017, but saw a slight rise of 0.02% year on year in 2019, according to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (in Chinese).

  • China in November launched its commercial 5G service. Chinese media has reported that the country boasts 10 million 5G users as of January.
  • According to our analysis of Strategy Analytics and Counterpoint data, around 8.93 million 5G phones were sold in China in 2019.
  • In 2013, China Telecom and Chinese internet company Netease jointly launched an instant messaging app called Yixin in a bid to challenge the dominance of Tencent’s WeChat. The app allows mobile users to use it without consuming any mobile data, including subscribers of China Mobile and China Unicom.
  • However, the WeChat clone failed to colonize WeChat’s market share. The app was only downloaded 60,000 times by smartphone users in February, according to Sensor Tower. During the same period of time, WeChat saw its downloads reaching 4 million.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.