Almost too good to be true, the use of a smartphone application that allows free calls regardless of cellphone carriers is spreading worldwide at a dizzying clip, faster than even the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter did.
But the app, called "Line," is now under fire for all those calls putting an extra load on the network and the possible leak of personal information. It's also getting a cool reception from cellphone carriers.
Line was developed by NHN Japan Corp., also known for having bought out Internet service provider Livedoor. NHN Japan started the service in June last year. The company said the number of Line users exceeded 30 million on April 18, with 60 percent of those overseas, and is adding more than 1 million users every week.
The pace is above the growth rates for even Facebook and Twitter in their early years, which took nearly three years for each to break the 20 million mark.
“We hope to win 100 million users by the end of the year,” said Jun Masuda, executive officer of NHN Japan.
The company said it has so far earned no profits from Line, but plans to generate revenue by charging users for part of the service and taking other measures.
The app, categorized in the Internet protocol phone service, allows phone conversations using the data communication service contracted through cellphone carriers.
Line is easy to use. That’s the biggest difference from other toll-free call services such as Skype.
After the app is downloaded into a smart phone, the app sends the phonebook information in the device to the company’s server. The server finds other Line users and sends back their names. The new user can make a call and send e-mails by just touching one of the names on the display. The owners of ordinary cellphones cannot make calls through Line but can send e-mails.
Amid Line’s breakneck growth, concerns are being raised.
Some users are concerned about their phone-book data being sent to the Line server. They fear that hacking and other online attacks against the server could lead to a leak of that information. A Line company official said an individual user cannot be identified because the data are coded.
Cellphone carriers are also gripped by a sense of crisis. From their viewpoint, Line is just offering users a free ride on their data communication service network.
Their biggest headache is that their networks are being overburdened with the increased data traffic.
NTT Docomo Inc. suffered a communication disruption in January, inconveniencing 2.52 million users in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. Regarding the outage, an official of the leading carrier explained, “That was because free-call applications generated more traffic than we had assumed,” implying Line as the culprit.
However, Line may be helping the booming sales of smartphones, because they can utilize this hot app.
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