The co-founder of fast-growing mobile messaging app, WhatsApp, claims the service will ultimately become a positive for mobile operators – despite evidence that it is eating into operators’ SMS revenue.

In a rare interview, Brian Acton told Reuters that WhatsApp is helping operators by encouraging users to migrate to data plans. "I view it from the perspective that we're facilitating a broad movement to data plans and the entities that provide those plans are the carriers, so they stand to benefit quite substantially," he said. "It's all about the data."

A recent report by Ovum calculated that operators lost US$13.9 billion in SMS revenue last year, partly as a result of users migrating to messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

According to the latest figures released by WhatsApp, the service is currently handling 2 billion messages a day. Acton noted that uptake has been particularly strong in the Netherlands and Spain in Europe, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the Middle East and Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore in Asia.

Mar Pages of telecoms consultancy Delta Partners told Reuters that WhatsApp’s impact has been particularly disruptive in Southeast Asia, where SMS has been popular, and hugely lucrative, and where users are price sensitive.

"Managing the transition away from high-margin products like SMS is a top priority for most of the mobile operators in the region as part of the wider effort to monetise the data opportunity," she said.

Acton added that the company had recently reduced the cost of the app on all platforms – except for Apple's iOS – from US$2 to US$1, though it only begins charging customers after a year of use. The company has been profitable year-on-year from late 2009, he said, declining to give further details.

According to Internet traffic monitor Allot Communications, WhatsApp accounted for 18 percent of instant messaging bandwidth in the second half of 2011, up from 3 percent in 1H11.