Message service Line entering carrier business in Japan (Update)
March 24, 2016
by Yuri Kageyama
Line Corp., which offers a popular mobile message and online voice-call service, is entering the mobile carrier business in Japan, promising to underprice competition as it grows its platform for news, music, games, live streaming and online shopping.
Tokyo-based Line, founded five years ago, already has a billion global registered users, 215 million of them active each month on average. That makes it bigger on mobile than Facebook or Twitter in Japan.
Line executives outlined the company's future strategy Thursday at a suburban theater, and also highlighted some achievements, such as racking up 120.7 billion yen ($1.1 billion) in sales last year.
Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing officer, told reporters that the mobile carrier service will be launched in a few months, starting at an affordable 500 yen ($4.40) a month and offering reliable connectivity using the telecommunications infrastructure of major Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo.
In Japan, many mobile users pay four times that much or more a month for data transmission and voice calls. Line said users will get unlimited use of Facebook and Twitter, plus Line communication, calls, chats and music.
Although social media companies have struggled to gain revenue, Line, now used in 230 nations including Asia, South America and Africa, has succeeded in unusual ways, such as merchandising of its mascot-like characters as dolls, which are sold in real stores.
It also sells sticker images that are sent with Line messages called "stamps" in Japan, some of which are free but many that come at a small price. Some 2.4 billion such stickers are sent each day, with sales reaching 25.3 billion yen ($224 million) last year, according to Line, a subsidiary of Korean Internet company Naver Corp.
It remains to be seen whether users outside Japan would be as willing to pay for such perks. Line has been rapidly growing in some parts of Asia, such as Indonesia.
Line has signed on major advertisers, like Toyota Motor Corp, and plans to expand its clientele, using its knowledge of users' interests to devise advertising that will appeal to them, said Shintaro Tabata, another Line executive.
Line says it plans to make online payments easier, partnering with a major Japanese credit card company and offering its own cash cards that can be charged at a convenience store chain. Online Line purchases will accumulate "points" that can be later converted into cash.
Line, the popular messaging app launched in the aftermath of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, is set for an initial public offering as early as this year, a report said Thursday, after shelving plans for a listing in 2014.
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