Japanese messaging app LINE announced at “LINE Conference Tokyo 2016” that it is launching its own mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) business through DoCoMo cellular network in summer 2016. With price starting from JPY 500 (USD 4.40) a month, LINE Mobile will offer unlimited free LINE calls, chats and other services offered by LINE such as LINE music. Outside of LINE services, users will get unlimited access to Facebook and Twitter.
LINE claimed over 1 billion registered users worldwide and 215 million monthly active users (MAU) as of December 2015, with its MAU number up by 13.3% on a year-over-year basis. A total of 258,000 sets of stickers have been offered in its store as of February 2016. LINE’s achievement in its platform has led the company to bring its business further, by joining the MVNO business.
In Japan, LINE Mobile will be joining the crowded MVNO market, where most of the services were offered via DoCoMo network. The price of mobile plan offered by the major three operators in Japan, Softbank, DoCoMo and KDDI is at least four times higher than LINE Mobile’s basic fee of JPY 500. However price does not seem to be an issue as the number of MVNOs are still small compared to mobile network operators. LINE is hoping its strong brand will help attract customers away from the established operators. MVNO attracts users with lower budgets and do not want to be restricted by contracts as well as locked handsets.
To differentiate from other messaging applications, LINE has been actively diversifying its revenue stream and content features beyond communications, starting with stickers and games. Currently, LINE’s business includes various businesses in media content (video, music) and other services (transportation, mobile payment, food delivery) mostly in its key countries of operation – Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia.
LINE revealed its plan to transform from the “world’s number one mobile messenger into the world’s number one Smart Portal”. Via LINE’s “Smart Portal”, users are able to connect to other people and have access to information and services at no restriction of location and time. LINE is currently the first messaging application to join the mobile operator market. By leveraging its existing media content and services, LINE Mobile will be an attractive service to LINE’s heavy users in Japan.