Lindsay McComb / Posted 7.17.2012
KakaoTalk: Pushing the limits of free communication
KakaoTalk mobile messaging app launched in 2010, only a few months after the iPhone debuted in Korea. It quickly became a staple of communication for Korean smartphone owners, allowing people to send and receive basic text messages, photos, videos, voice clips, one-on-one and in group chats. It works both locally and internationally -- and like similar apps, all users need to to enter is a phone number. It synchronizes with contact lists, so users don't have search for their friends. Of course, they can if they want to.
KakaoTalk has 52 million users worldwide and some 38 million or so users in Korea alone - which is essentially 90% of all Korean smartphone users.
This upstart start-up is seeing a staggering 1.3 billion messages a day, or roughly 10,000 messages a second.
Features for you
Fun features include group chats, voice notes, voice filter options, unique emoticons, and a walkie talkie "push to talk" feature. Users can also add "Plus Friends" to receive special content and updates from brands and artists. This Twitter-esque feed feature is big in Korea with users ranging from KPop singers to clothing stores and news networks.
Unfortunately, there's news on whether this feature will branch out globally.
What really makes KakaoTalk a step above the other mobile messagers is its newly added (and somewhat controversial) free Internet call feature (VoIP) called Kakao VoiceTalk.
The cost of free
Within three days of its June launch, KakaoTalk users in Korea were making 20 million VoIP calls a day. Cell phone carriers SK Telecom and KT began "degrading service for the lowest two tiers of their data plans," causing dropped calls and making this feature virtually unusable for many users. Subscribers with more expensive data plans were still able to make calls without disruptions, but still face limits on how many megabytes they can use on VoIP calls per month.
The Korea Communications Commission (The South Korean equivalent of the FCC) ruled that cell phone operators could block these apps or charge extra fees to use them. This has stirred up a huge debate in Korea on the issue of net neutrality and whether or not companies should be able to limit the use and access of data.
No word yet on whether the FCC will allow U.S. cell phone providers to put a clamp on data usage for free VoIP services.
Until then, there's always WiFi.