Line, a free-telephone app for smartphones, has won 100 million users worldwide, establishing a dominant lead over rivals hoping to emulate its success.
“We have achieved growth that will go down in the history of the Internet,” Akira Morikawa, president of service provider NHN Japan Corp., said at an event in Tokyo to celebrate the 100 millionth subscriber on Jan. 18.
The service, which started in June 2011, has attracted 100 million users in just 19 months or so, a faster pace than Facebook, the world’s largest social networking service, the company said.
A type of Internet protocol phone, Line enables users to talk free of charge except for standard data communication fees. People on both ends of the line need to download the free app on their smartphones.
Line boasts a subscriber base of 41.5 million, mainly young people, in Japan alone.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his debut on the service on Jan. 14, Coming of Age Day, asking those who turned or will turn 20 in the year through March what kind of nation they want to turn Japan into.
NHN Japan has yet to make money on a monthly basis due mainly to investments for expanding overseas. But monthly sales from pictograms and messages that Line users can send to one another reach several hundreds of millions of yen.
In addition, about 30 companies, including convenience store chain Lawson Inc., pay several million yen a month for advertising on the service, such as distributing coupons.
A number of companies have started rival services.
“A free-telephone app could turn into a money tree,” a senior official of a major information technology company said.
Yahoo Japan Corp. entered the market in October by joining hands with South Korea’s Kakao Corp., which operates the Kakao Talk service globally. But the number of domestic subscribers remain at several million.
“The penetration rate of smartphones has just exceeded 30 percent,” Yahoo Japan operating officer Shin Murakami said. “There is still plenty of room for growth.”
DeNA Co., a major social networking game provider, introduced “comm” in October, emphasizing high sound quality. Gree Inc., DeNA’s main competitor, is also preparing to introduce a service.
NTT Communications Corp., an Internet protocol telephone service provider, has been offering “050plus” since July 2011.
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