Aircel, India’s sixth-largest mobile operator, says data usage has increased by a quarter in areas where it has partnered with Nimbuzz, a free messaging app provider.

Nimbuzz is currently promoted by Aircel in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

“Jammu & Kashmir is a highly regulated market where SMS services are unavailable, so our focus is on data,” Sundeep Talwar, Aircel’s operations head for J&K, told The Economic Times. “In the last 15 days, after the launch of Nimbuzz, data usage from our users in J&K went up by 25%.”

Talwar reports that more than 5,000 users have downloaded the app in just 15 days.

Aircel has plans to extend the service to Delhi in the next few weeks. States in the north east are scheduled for May.

The striking of deals between OTT players and telcos may well be a growing trend in India.

Facebook has already signed deals with Airtel and Reliance Communications, while WhatsApp too has a relationship with Reliance.

“In 2012, operators were essentially fighting the rising popularity of free messaging apps, but towards the end of the year they realised that they cannot compete so they might as well tie up and offer subscription packages,” said Neha Dharia, an Ovum analyst, quoted by The Economic Times.

OTT players are, however, dividing operating opinion. César Alierta, Telefonica’s chief executive, argued vociferously at Mobile World Congress that internet players should help shoulder the burden of operators’ network and spectrum costs.

Fuelling this argument, perhaps, is the adverse effect that online social messaging services on smartphones is having on texting revenue. A report last year from Ovum estimated that operators, by 2016, will have lost $54 billion in SMS revenues due to the growing popularity of online messaging.

In stark contrast, David Thodey, Telstra’s chief executive, said in an interview with Mobile World Live that he welcomed the emergence of OTT players because they stimulate data demand.