The failure of WhatsApp last Monday left hundreds of millions of people unable to communicate with their loved ones for hours.
Some students were also unable to exchange messages with their teachers. Many workers were unable to speak to their colleagues. And many others stopped receiving the orders on which their businesses depend.
“I can say that 70% of my orders come from social networks. And because of the failure the other day, I lost 50% of my sales, ”Kafui Adzah, the owner of a restaurant in Accra, the capital of Ghana, tells the BBC.
The failure in the Facebook platforms, of which WhatsApp is part, lasted for about six hours, affecting the instant messages application that has about 2,000 million users in 180 countries.
However, the problem did not affect as many in the country where WhatsApp was born.
And it is that in the United States, it is estimated that less than 20% of smartphone users use this app to communicate, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Why isn’t it like the rest of the world?
The culture of SMS
Almost all mobile users in the United States have a contract with a telephone company. Unlike other countries, it is rare to have a prepaid plan.
When cell phones became popular in the 1990s, sending and receiving SMS text messages (Short Message Service) was expensive for Americans.
The plans included a limited number of SMS and exceeding it raised the bill.
With the expansion of the infrastructure, 2G technology, greater coverage and the great competition of companies for customers, things have changed.
The telephone companies began to offer plans with unlimited calls and free SMS, which made the option of sending and receiving text messages very popular.
“The good old 2G cell phone really wowed people in America and made it their own,” says Scott Campbell, a telecommunications professor at the University of Michigan, on the Lifewire technology blog.
On the other hand, hiring data from the internet raised the bill.
And since SMS was included in the contract, the Americans were left with the habit of using it.
That is why, despite the fact that today having internet on the mobile is relatively more accessible, and although there are Wi-Fi connections almost everywhere, the SMS culture remains firm in the country where WhatsApp was born.
Facebook Messenger on WhatsApp
The use of other messaging applications is not uncommon in the US, but several have established themselves in the market before WhatsApp.
A Statias survey on the use of applications to send messages and make video calls shows that in 2021 the use of Facebook Messenger It is the most popular option (87%) by Americans.
FaceTime (34%), Zoom (34%) and Snapchat (28%) are also above WhatsApp (25%).
But when it comes to Latinos, things change: almost 50% of that population group uses WhatsApp, mainly because many communicate with contacts from other countries.
Some analysts claim that, unlike people in countries in other regions such as Europe or Latin America, Americans don’t have many contacts outside the country.
So Americans do not face the problem of sending an SMS to another country (which would imply an additional cost) as in other regions.
“One of the main reasons for its popularity in Latin America is that it was one of the first mechanisms available in the region to keep instant communication 100% free. This made it possible to avoid the SMS fees charged by mobile operators, ”says the DigitalTrends blog.
The iPhone factor
One element that adds to the tendency of Americans to continue using SMS is the presence of the iPhone.
Apple phone is used by almost 50% of mobile users de EE.UU.
And since the iOS system from its first versions adapted its iMessage application to the SMS platform of cellular companies, the use of SMS was not affected.
When users who have iPhones send messages to each other, the phone uses its own platform. But if it detects that the other phone is from another manufacturer, such as Android, it uses the SMS network.
However, one factor that computer security experts highlight is that SMS are more vulnerable to intrusion than the encrypted conversations offered by WhatsApp.
In addition, the ability to form groups on WhatsApp is another feature that could change the SMS culture that has been so ingrained among Americans in recent decades.