Last updated: 6 March 2015
Brazil currently holds one of the largest and fastest growing user bases for WhatsApp in the world. In this article we will look at the history of mobile messaging in Brazil, the current uses of WhatsApp and its main competitors in the country.
WhatsApp and Mobile Device Messaging in Brazil
Since the introduction of commercially available internet services in Brazil during the 1990’s, Brazilian PC users have been enthusiastic adopters of messaging and social networks. Brazil is the country, for example, where Orkut, one of the earliest examples of online social networks in the world, reached massive penetration, and also the market where messaging services like MSN Messenger found one of its largest audiences.
Brazilian cellphone users, however, have not been historically known for their intense usage of messaging services, especially when compared to countries like the United States and The United Kingdom where SMS messaging is a much more widely adopted practice.
This is due, in most part, to the business model of Brazilian carriers, who charge highly for the number of SMS messages sent, a fact that makes the intensive use of messaging an unattractive option for Brazil cellphone users. For example, a study from 2006 by the International Telecommunications Union found that Brazilian operators charged an average of USD 0.15 per message, the highest price in a list of 151 countries.
With the surge in sales of smartphones and other mobile connected devices over the last few years, along with the increased coverage of mobile internet connections, Brazilian cellphone users have become much more inclined to send messages through over-the-top applications, and therefore save money that would otherwise be spent on SMS. The usage of mobile internet for messaging allowed services like Facebook to expand their reach to mobile device users and also for messaging apps like WhatsApp to have an explosive reception by the Brazilian audience.
Since its launch, WhatsApp has continuously expanded its reach to Brazilian cellphone users, and the country currently represents one its largest global audiences. An example of the service’s growth rate can be found in official published reports from early 2014. In February, WhatsApp representatives reported that their Brazilian user base accounted for 38 million, a number that jumped to 45 million in two months, according to their data from April.
Considering recent research by market intelligence provider Nielsen, WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in Brazil and is present on close to 70% of mobile phones in the country. As its popularity still grows, WhatsApp currently serves as a fast, widely adopted communication platform for Brazilians, at times working as a substitute to the functions of other messaging services like e-mail, SMS and social networks.
WhatsApp Usage in Brazil
Overall, Brazilians make use of WhatsApp for daily communications, of which the group chat function is one of the most popular, being used for the sharing of text and media with multiple friends at a time. Due to this nature of group messaging, Brazilian WhatsApp users also send message chains and retransmit internet memes, usages previously reserved for email and social networks.
The widespread adoption of WhatsApp by Brazilian smartphone owners led to interesting usages of the service, such as the ways Brazilian companies implemented the platform to its operations. These include companies which started using WhatsApp as an alternative way to contact and book deliveries and services, as well as for publicity campaigns, internal communications, customer support and news reports.
Politicians, such as re-elected Brazilian president Dilma Roussef, rival candidate Aécio Neves and many others have also used WhatsApp for campaign purposes.
Application marketplace charts indicate that Brazilian users do not show much interest in third party apps that intend to extend the functionalities of WhatsApp. The most downloaded of these apps do not profoundly alter the functionality of the Whatsapp, offering very basic functions such as additional wallpapers to message windows.
Another example of WhatsApp third party apps that received attention in the country was an Android app that allowed for multi-SIM card phones, which are widely used in Brazil, to have multiple accounts on a single device.
WhatsApp’s ubiquitous presence on Brazilian smartphones also led one of the country’s carriers, TIM, to offer a zero-rating plan that does not charge subscribers for the usage of the messaging app. The carrier also recently announced that all of their post paid plans would allow free use of WhatsApp.
Main Competitors and Alternatives
As the popularity of WhatsApp and messaging apps continues to rise in Brazil, many competing services were introduced in the country’s market in an attempt to capture the interest of the smartphone public.
One of the fastest growing messaging apps in Brazil, Viber offers VOIP calls and other functionalities that currently cannot be found with competing services such as WhatsApp. The app’s recently introduced feature of public group messaging received a positive response from the country’s users, with many celebrities using it as way to have direct contact with their audience.
Data from August 2014 indicates that the service has over 17 million active users in Brazil, and, according to research by Nielsen, is present on around 10% of smartphones in the country.
Created as a 100% national alternative to WhatsApp and named by the play on words used by Brazilians to refer to the popular app, Zap Zap offers very similar features to the ones found in other messaging apps like Telegram and functionalities such as publicly accessible messaging groups, map of users found in the same geographical region and post feed. As of late 2014, Zap Zap announced it had gathered over 1 million Brazilian users.
Open source, non-commercial, encrypted messaging app Telegram, has expanded its popularity to Brazilian users as of recent years. The application was recently updated with photo editing and password security functionalities.
Some of the other popular messaging apps in Brazil include:
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Hangouts
- ICQ Messenger
As applications like WhatsApp are commonly used in Brazil as a substitute to services like calls and SMS messaging, the need for the creation of special regulation to cover its functionalities has been cited by Brazilian organizations such as the Ministry of Telecommunications and the Brazilian Telecommunications agency, although no specific regulatory measure has been developed as of yet.
WhatsApp is extensively used in Brazil for sharing adult content, which has been cause for controversy over the last few years. In 2013, a widely circulated homemade adult video of a Brazilian couple led the depicted woman to suffer public harassment, which in turn sparked a twitter campaign intended to show support for her and other women in similar conditions.
In February 2015, a Brazilian judge from the Northeastern state of Piauí ordered WhatsApp to be suspended in the country after a series of requirements made to the service were not complied to. These inquiries, related to an ongoing investigation about pedophilia in the state, dating back to 2013, resulted in the judge’s decision to have Brazilian operators block access to the service, as a way to eliminate the chances of criminals using it for illegal purposes.
The court order was later withdrawn by an officer from the same state, although the public’s reaction to the possibility of having the popular service taken down caused many competing apps to have a spike in download numbers. Reports suggest that the day after the court order was published apps Viber and Telegram received 6 million new users in Brazil.