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The number of people using WeChat, a voice-messaging service developed by the Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd, has hit 300 million in the less than two years since the service was released, the Shenzhen-based company said on Wednesday.
Analysts said WeChat is "very likely" to gain another 100 million users over the next 12 months.
"If the number of mobile Internet users continues to expand at the current speed - if it hits 550 million by the end of this year - the number of subscribers will certainly rise to 400 million," said You Tianyu, senior analyst at the market research company iResearch Consulting Group.
WeChat's prospects will be closely aligned to the number of people using mobile Internet devices in China, he added.
By the end of last year, 420 million Chinese people were accessing the Internet with mobile devices, up 18 percent year-on-year, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.
WeChat was launched on Jan 12, 2011, and took more than a year to draw 100 million users. By September, it had reached the 200 million mark, Tencent said.
Tencent QQ, the most popular online-chatting service in China, is vigorously encouraging its users to try WeChat, You said. He noted that QQ has more than 700 million users, a fact that has made it easier to promote WeChat.
WeChat is also posing challenges to older means of telecommunications, such as text messages and phone calls.
From 2008 to 2012, the number of minutes China Mobile Ltd voice service customers used dropped by more than 380 billion, even as the company added 226 million subscribers, said the company's financial report.
"The function of WeChat is very similar to the text messaging and voice call services that are provided by telecom carriers," You said. "WeChat's rapid increase in user numbers is likely to affect older methods of telecommunication."
The country's top three telecom carriers, which include China Mobile, did not answer calls from China Daily about this issue on Wednesday.
Tencent, meanwhile, is working to expand WeChat's global reach.
"The 300 million number is a milestone for WeChat, and we hope the service will be ready to perform on the global stage in 2013," Pony Ma, Tencent chairman and chief executive officer, said on his micro blog on Wednesday morning.
Late last year saw the introduction of an English version of WeChat in a bid to draw more international users. Tencent has released versions in Arabic, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai.
Tencent said it is mostly pursuing its expansion plans in emerging and Asian markets. It said the company finds it easier to reach its goals in such places, in part because they have cultures that are similar to China's.
Tencent, for instance, paid 403 million yuan ($64.7 million) in 2012 for about 14 percent of Kakao Talk, WeChat's counterpart in South Korea.
(China Daily 01/17/2013 page13)