Instant messaging apps will account for three-quarters of all mobile messaging traffic in 2018, according to Juniper Research, but contribute just 2 per cent of messaging revenue.

The messaging traffic from the likes of WhatsApp, WeChat, LINE and Viber will consist of 63 trillion messages by 2018, with the market worth more than $3 billion, according to the report. The Far East and China are expected to generate the most mobile messaging traffic during the next four years.

Juniper Research actually increased its forecast for traffic attributable to mobile messaging apps due to their rapid adoption over the past 18 months.

The report suggests that the additional functionality provided by IM messaging over SMS — such as the ability to send messages to multiple users, conduct group conversations and send stickers, emoticons and images — will drive traffic volume for messaging apps.

The fact that younger users in particular install more than one messaging app on their smartphone is also likely to play a role in driving traffic.

Messaging app makers could still improve the amount of revenue they generate via the services, however, with current techniques including in-app purchases, games, advertising and subscriptions.

Juniper Research pointed out that Facebook Messenger is a loss leader being used to increase engagement with the platform to boost revenue on its main app, which does generate revenue.

Showing the momentum being created in the mobile messaging market, Viber was last week acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for $900 million.

Messaging apps have long been cited as eroding SMS revenue for operators, but as more of them move into voice, they could have an even greater impact.