Telecommunications - Regional

Nimbuzz prepares for Argentina launch

Nimbuzz prepares for Argentina launch

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Dutch social networks and messenger unification platform Nimbuzz plans to launch commercial operations in Argentina late November, expanding on its presence in Brazil, Nimbuzz chief marketing officer Kobus Smit told BNamericas.

Nimbuzz is already present in Argentina through its global development center in Córdoba, but will soon open commercial offices in Buenos Aires.

According to local consultancy Prince & Cooke, nearly half the Argentine population - some 17mn people - are internet users; and according to web information compiler Alexa, social network sites Fotolog, Yahoo!, MSN, Facebook and Taringa are among the 10 most visited sites by Argentine web users. Google and Windows Live information searches lead the ranking.

Today Argentina has some 41mn mobile users, equivalent to 97% penetration. According to Argentine research firm Carrier y Asociados the country ended August with 200,000 3G mobile accounts, which is a low proportion but still a jump from the 30,000 3G accounts registered at end-2007.

BRAZILIAN OPS

When Nimbuzz launched Brazilian operations in May, country manager Carlos Medina said the network already had 30,000 local users and would be likely to grow to at least 500,000 by year-end. Smit declined to say how well Brazilian adoption has been going since May, but confirmed that the company expects user numbers to accelerate rapidly following a major advertising campaign in November.

The campaign will include ads in partnered magazines and websites, in mobile operators' WAP sites, via email and viral campaigns, and through deals with download sites as well as positioning outside those media, Smit said.

Approximately 3.6mn of Brazil's 120mn mobile users have data plans and are almost certainly using them to access social networking sites, according to Smit. Mobile internet browser developer Opera recently reported that Google's Orkut social network is the second most popular site for mobile internet users in Brazil, while the MSN network is the sixth most popular site, with locally owned online communities Globo and Terra ranking third and fourth.

Outside Latin America, Smit estimates that 80% of Nimbuzz's members are using the service primarily via their cellphones, but in Brazil the high incidence of prepaid mobile accounts and relatively low adoption of data plans means Nimbuzz must first establish its presence via PCs. Brazil has better PC penetration than neighboring countries, Smit added.

Therefore, a second factor likely to boost adoption in Brazil is the forthcoming launch of Nimbuzz's PC and Mac versions ("clients"), as well as its iPhone client and even a version intended for the iPod touch, all of which are to be launched globally before year-end.

In theory consumers who do not have accounts with the well-known networks - like MSN, Google and Yahoo! - can sign up to use Nimbuzz alone and thus communicate via chat or VoIP with other Nimbuzz users, and for a small percentage of users this is already the case. But Nimbuzz is not planning to compete with its peers and the whole point of the venture is to encourage people to access more networks in a greater variety of ways, Smit says.

HISTORY

Nimbuzz was created early 2006 and its main investors - Mangrove Capital Partners, MIH, Holtzbrinc and South African pay TV and internet provider Naspers (Nasdaq: NPSN) - injected US$10mn into the venture in 2007. A second financing round, led by Naspers/MIH, raised US$15mn in July this year. Naspers was one of the original investors in VoIP platform Skype.

The July funding round was mainly to cover development of Nimbuzz clients for Windows Mobile, iPhone and Android operating systems. Today most of Nimbuzz's mobile users are based on Java operating systems, but the Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 versions are gaining in popularity, Smit said.

Nimbuzz allows users to insert messaging and VoIP functionality into 23 social network websites and has agreements in the pipeline with another 10 networks.