German mobile network operator E-Plus has launched a mobile data tariff in partnership with OTT mobile messaging service WhatsApp. The new WhatsApp SIM pre-paid tariff enables free use of WhatsApp even when a customer has no credit remaining. The WhatsAll Option package offers 600 units for €10.00 (US $14.00) per month, which can be used for high-speed mobile data, calls or texts. The WhatsApp SIM starter set costs €10.00 and includes €10.00 of starter credit. The pre-installed basic tariff charges €0.09 (US $0.12) per minute or per text within Germany, plus €0.24 (US $0.33) per megabyte of data.
E-Plus’s plans for prepaid services in partnership with WhatsApp were announced last month, as we reported, and now that the service has launched and its features been specified, it is apparent that it amounts to creation of a WhatsApp-branded MVNO running on E-Plus’s network. The messaging service is now available to prepaid subscribers of E-Plus outside the credit system normally used by WhatsApp, via a SIM card that also provides data and voice. The Facebook-owned OTT service provider has already entered into around 50 partnerships with mobile operators around the world, but this MVNO arrangement is a first.
WhatsApp has also indicated that it intends to offer its own voice calling service in the future, in addition to text messaging. The fact that the MVNO service through E-Plus includes voice will likely position WhatsApp to capture subscribers for its independent VoIP service if and when it is launched. As for E-Plus, the WhatsApp-branded MVNO, while it may not be hugely profitable in the short term, could help the operator lure subscribers away from rival MNOs. Around 90 percent of German smartphone users (30 million people) already have WhatsApp, so a service that allows them to this kind of enhanced access to WhatsApp could induce some to switch to E-Plus.