David Blecken
Mar 25, 2016

UPDATED: Line moves further away from messenger status

TOKYO – Line has announced plans to introduce a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service, Line Mobile, in the summer.

Line's MVNO service will roll out in the summer
Line's MVNO service will roll out in the summer

Pointing to data from Nikkei BP that shows less than half the Japanese population uses a smartphone, Line said it aims to improve mobile infrastructure. Through Line Mobile, the company will offer unlimited usage of its chat service, Facebook and Twitter.

The data service will use the NTT DoCoMo network and start at 500 yen (around US$4). In a statement, the company said data charges had become “of particular concern to all, especially younger users”.

“Line Mobile attempts to alleviate this issue head on by not charging for streaming music and other types of popular content,” the statement said.

The move is in line with the company’s business strategy, also unveiled at the event, to “close the distance” and “become a ‘smart portal’ linking people to people, information and services”.

Last year in an interview with Campaign, Line’s head of corporate sales, Shintaro Tabata, explained that Line aimed to position itself as a central control mechanism for connected devices.

According to the company, the goal is “to become an entity that is as comfortable to be with as the family and friends that people have, providing an environment where anyone’s day may literally begin and end with the service”.

As part of this mission, Line announced new account features with the aim of facilitating commercial transactions, an area where China’s WeChat stands out as a pioneer.

The new services include virtual reward cards designed to replace physical loyalty stamp cards, across Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan; a ‘coupon book’ that enables users to manage coupons from different companies and stores within the app, available globally; and an online store feature for the Japanese market.

The company also unveiled Line Business, which aims to connect users and commercial service providers.

Lastly, Line announced a partnership with Universal Studios Japan to promote the theme park’s 15th anniversary. The ‘Re-born’ initiative will make a specially created commemorative range of stickers available for download.

Line's global monthly active users total 215 million. It does not break them down by country, but a spokesperson said its top countries aside from Japan remain Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia. Last year, a report by Tech In Asia noted the app's growth was flattening out. 

Commenting on the moves, Yasuharu Sasaki, ECD of Dentsu, noted that a few years ago, Line was a pure messenger app that was "trying to become media" by publishing content and connecting the general public and brands. "I was not so interested in that direction," he said.

But he sees the aim to become a key part of the Internet of Things (IoT) as much more significant.

"Now, they are going to connect not only people, but also objects, commerce and client services. If they become successful in this area, the communication platforms in Japan will be totally changed.

"So I am very interested in this direction as a user, and afraid of it as an agency person."

Updated 29 March to include commentary from Yasuharu Sasaki, ECD, Dentsu

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