Yesterday, after continuing rumors that was about to happen, China Unicom finally announced its WeChat-specific subscription plan. The plan, as we reported yesterday, will give users unlimited access to WeChat without counting any of the app’s traffic towards their monthly data allotment (if they have a data plan at all). It’s a clever move on the part of the telecom, and one that I had previously suggested would make a lot of sense as China’s telecoms struggled to replace the revenue they’ve lost in SMS and calling fees as users switch to smartphone apps.
This particular plan might not make as much sense from a user perspective, though. China Unicom hasn’t officially announced the price, but a rumor earlier this week pegged it at around 36 RMB ($6). That may not sound like much, but as TechRice’s Kai Lukoff pointed out in our comments section yesterday, China Unicom charges just 30 RMB to add 500 MB to your data plan. WeChat may be a multimedia–heavy application, but most users are still using it mostly for text chat or walkie-talkie style conversation, which doesn’t tend to eat a lot of bandwidth. Unless users are frequently making video calls in places where they don’t have Wi-Fi access, it’s unlikely that they’re going to use that much data every month.
That means that for most users, the extra WeChat plan will actually be more expensive than simply maintaining their current data package, or adding an extra 500 MB of data to their plan to cover their monthly WeChat usage if they’re routinely going over.
So while China Unicom may attract a few heavy WeChat users and some lighter users that are drawn in by marketing gimmicks, ultimately this sort of plan doesn’t seem likely to become the kind of massive revenue stream that could replace SMS fees, for example. It is some revenue, of course, and that’s better than nothing. But I think that WeChat subscription fee will have to be a better deal for consumers before Unicom can really hope to replace the revenue from services that OTT apps like WeChat are threatening.