Facebook allows mobile phone registration for Messenger, sets up rivalry with sibling WhatsApp

Facebook has made another move to decouple its mobile messaging service from the social networking website co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, and potentially set up a sibling rivalry with WhatsApp, another popular messaging tool that Facebook owns.

Anyone can now sign up for Facebook’s Messenger app simply by providing their phone number, the company said this week. Previously, they needed a Facebook account to do so.

The service has been available to users in North America, Peru and Venezuela since last month but is now global, David Marcus, a Facebook vice president, said on Thursday.

But those who lack an account will not be able to message other people who use Facebook unless they know their phone numbers.

They will also not be able to migrate conversations between devices, such as from a phone to a tablet.

The move comes after the popular social networking tool added a payment system in March for its Messenger users in the United States, enabling them to use their debit cards to transfer money among themselves.

It is unclear whether Facebook will extend the system to other countries, or if it is interested in targeting the Asian market for online mobile payments. 

Internet consultancy iResearch expects the market for third-party mobile payments, including e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Alipay, will hit 11.9 trillion yuan (US$1.9 trillion) by 2017 in China alone.

The hugely popular Chinese messaging app, WeChat, run by internet portal Tencent, offers a similar payment service in the “Middle Kingdom”. 

Also in March, Facebook said at its F8 developer conference that Messenger had 600 million monthly active users, up 20 per cent from November.

Messaging app WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, said it had 800 million active monthly users as of April, while WeChat reported 549 million monthly active users in May.

Messenger and WhatsApp share similar features but are marketed separately.

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