Viber eyes local prepaid market with telco tie-up

Talks on with at least one telco to offer unlimited chats for flat fee

Prepaid mobile users will soon have more options to chat on their devices with the entry of chat app provider Viber in Singapore.

Cyprus-based Viber is in talks to partner "at least one local telco" to offer an unlimited messaging plan over 3G networks for a flat fee, its chief executive Talmon Marco told The Straits Times.

Mr Marco would not name the telcos or Viber's pricing strategy but he said an announcement is expected in one to two months.

The deals would be similar to SingTel's and StarHub's existing tie-ups with two of the world's most popular chat app providers - United States-based WhatsApp and China-based WeChat, respectively.

Prepaid users pay $6 a month to chat on either of these two platforms, capped at 1GB of data exchange per day.

Prepaid plans here are not packaged with data, which prevent users from using a chat app like WhatsApp, unlike postpaid subscription plans that are bundled with at least 2GB of free data.

Forrester telco analyst Clement Teo said the tie-ups will let telcos reach out to prepaid customers who have yet to sign up for messaging plans and generate "a few more dollars" per customer.

SingTel and StarHub's existing tie-ups do not preclude them from working with competing providers like Viber.

SingTel said it is open to more of such partnerships.

StarHub said it will "continue to find such opportunities" but would not elaborate.

M1, which has yet to partner any chat app provider, also said it is open to the idea.

In the local prepaid market, SingTel has the lion's share with 1.77 million users, followed by StarHub, at 1.13 million, and M1, at about one million. Many of them are typically foreign workers, students and the elderly.

It is not known how many users WhatsApp, WeChat and Viber have in Singapore.

Globally, WhatsApp has 350 million active monthly users; WeChat has 270 million; and Viber has 200 million.

Filipino maid Gemma Sanchez, 37, who works here, said Viber's entry will mean more unlimited chat choices.

"I don't have to keep topping up the value of my prepaid card for voice calls and SMS," she said.

Student Shaun Tan, 19, who is a prepaid mobile user, said his parents would not let him sign up for StarHub's $6-a-month WeChat plan.

"They fear I would not take my eyes off the phone even when crossing the road."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 29, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to