Orange hasn't given up competing for the future of messaging

Users of its upgraded Libon service can start chatting by sending an SMS with a link to a Web client

Orange is hoping it can compete more effectively with over-the-top messaging vendors thanks to an upgraded version of its Libon service that lets uses chat with anyone who has a device with an HTML browser.

Any doubt that mobile instant messaging is one of the hottest application areas on smartphones was erased yesterday when Facebook announced its bid for WhatsApp, which follows Japanese company Rakuten's recent acquisition of competing service Viber.

The acquisitions come on the back of a rapidly growing global user base. Operators have struggled to compete, but that isn't stopping operators like Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Sprint from continuing to try to make their mark.

On Thursday, Orange launched the latest generation of Libon, which offers instant messaging. The service is already used for voicemail and free telephony. A key part of the latest generation of Libon is Open Chat, a technology that lets users chat with anyone, as long as they have a device with an HTML5 browser.

For example, Libon users who want to start chatting with someone on a smartphone can send them a regular SMS. The text message includes a link to a Web-based Libon client. The recipient doesn't have to register for anything, according to Giles Corbett, head of Libon at Orange. If another Libon user were to send a text to the same recipient, the same instance of the client would be used. Like any Web-based client it can be bookmarked and accessed at a later date, he said.

If the user decides to download the native smartphone client, all contacts and chat history from the Web client is transferred to it. In a couple of months, Orange also plans to add group chats, according to Corbett.

Orange is also announcing that Libon will become its app for all Joyn-based services. Joyn is standard the operators have developed to compete with OTT services. Orange has launched services based on it in France and Spain, and is conducting trials in Luxembourg, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, with more countries to come throughout the year, it said.

Joyn-based and other services from operators have been slow to take off. Orange doesn't want to say how many users Libon has.

"If you go and compare it to WhatsApp or Skype, it looks really small. And yet, from a telco perspective, from a perspective of what we are doing it is already very significant. I don't think there is a telco OTT service in the world that has as many users as we have," Corbett said.

One of the main reasons text messages became such a success is their ubiquity. The operators are hoping to achieve the same with Joyn. At next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Orange and Deutsche Telekom will be demonstrating the first international Joyn connection.

On Thursday, Jibe Mobile announced that its RCS Hub is now available, with the goal of making it easier for operators in different parts of the world to interconnect their services. It too will be showcased at Mobile World Congress.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

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