The rise of OTT messaging

Snapchat has come on leaps and bounds since it was first introduced to mobile users in September 2011, despite the photo application gaining a negative reputation with its initial release.

By some, it was seen to perpetuate the sexting trend, with researchers claiming its primary audience to be teens who predominantly shared sensitive content that handily disappeared after the app’s timer runs out.

However, since those days Snapchat has expanded its repertoire and is now being used for a variety of creative purposes that are not necessarily privacy-related. And the fundamental reason for its use, according to users, is that the application is seen to be "fun and easy to use".

Investors have clearly caught onto the popularity of the platform as a foothold for new services. In August this year, it was announced that Snapchat had secured a round of funding from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who have valued the social network at around $10bn (£6.3bn).

What’s more, Yahoo now wants to follow suit and has expressed interest in investing too. If investors are willing to put their money where their mouth is, then the future of Snapchat will be one worth watching.

But, like other Over-The-Top (OTT) messaging services, what role will internet connectivity play in enabling these platforms to achieve their lofty ambitions?

The news of Snapchat’s funding was just beginning of a new trajectory for the platform. This month, the media have reported how Snapchat will break free of its current photo messaging chains and will soon serve up ads to users.

This was the stance of company CEO Evan Spiegel, who explained at a conference that the platform will build on last year’s Snapchat Stories innovation - the ability to post a string of photos and videos that stays live for 24 hours - to become more of a platform for video.

Ads won’t be placed on personal messages, but will run alongside Stories, and users will be able to skip ads. Users themselves have even begun touting the platform as "YouTube for the mobile age".

Snapchat isn’t the only OTT messaging service that has exploded to fame over recent years. What’s App is an obvious example of an OTT messaging service that has achieved great success. But there are a number of other, new services that are pushing their way through the market as consumers search for the latest mobile apps to make their lives just a little bit easier.

For example, Acision’s fuseMe provides "all in one communication", allowing users to sync contacts, conduct group chats and share media, offering all the OTT services of disparate apps in one place.

Kik claims to be the first smartphone messenger service with a built-in browser, enabling users to talk, browse and share with one another.

Firechat has found popularity among protesters in Hong Kong recently - launched in March of this year, it’s a free mobile messaging app that allows users to communicate through Bluetooth in the absence of Internet or cellular connections.

And the latest app on the block, ComiXchat turns conversations you’re having with friends into comic strips, bringing dialogue to life in a visual format.

While these OTT apps work in different ways and provide different services, what they all have in common is connectivity.

Connectivity is underpinned by the right IT infrastructure to ensure messages being sent from one user to another are delivered without noticeable delay. That the viewer of a video can do so without buffering or lag. And images download promptly instead of mobile users being met with a dreaded error screen.

Network service providers and ISPs are uniquely positioned to respond to the unprecedented change seen in the world of OTT and mobile services and will play a key role in their success.

In the specific case of services dealing with rich media, mobile network operators will see a surge in mobile data traffic driven predominantly by video on smartphones. This will mean the need for new infrastructure locations - such as co-locating in data centres where leading ISPs with excellent connectivity of the target audience are present.

This will be how OTT providers enhance both network redundancy and customer experience. The latter will be key to OTT services being used in the way they are intended, rather than left on the phone unused or deleted.

With users viewing over 1 billion stories and sharing more than 700 million snaps per day, the future of Snapchat is bright. But without superior connectivity to meet customer demand, customers could be left cold if unable to send that funny photo of their lunch or a video of that party to their friends in the blink of an eye.

Instead, they’ll turn to the latest OTT service snapping at the heels of the mobile industry without second thought. And in a highly competitive market estimated to be worth $54 billion (£34bn) by 2019, businesses need to get connectivity right if they want to keep customer happy and grab themselves a slice of the OTT pie.

Mike Hollands is connectivity, marketing and business development director for Interxion.