Zalo: Viet Nam falls in love with first home-grown OTT service

Friday, Oct 11, 2013 17:57

by Lan Dung

HA NOI (Biz Hub) — Zalo, the latest offering from Vietnamese company VinaGame (VNG), hopes to win over new customers and foster their relationships with friends and family with its slogan "Nhan Gui Yeu Thuong" - roughly translated as Talk To Your Love.

Members of Zalo development team work at the office in HCM City. Photo courtersy of VNG

Zalo enables users to make free phone calls and text messages on their internet compatible mobile phones when they sign up for the mobile phone application which utilises Over-The-Top (OTT) internet technology.

VNG got the idea of developing Zalo - its first mobile product - at the beginning of 2011 when they saw the high demand for the simple and free communication tool for mobile phones.

Zalo's rivals are all from countries with a reputation for producing high-tech products and which have the big advantages of finance as well as technological experience and expertise, says VNG deputy general director Vuong Quang Khai.

When Zalo was born, OTT services such as South Korea's KakaoTalk, Japan's Line Messenger and Viber from the US had already taken root in Viet Nam.

"We always think that competition with international products is considered a romance of technicians. This technological romance has resulted in achievements in the local IT community. Making the dream of exporting software come true and seeing the local Internet and mobile infrastructure develop rapidly after 10-years of input", Khai says.

"At the moment, this romance has helped Zalo win over Vietnamese users' hearts, step by step." he adds.

A Foreign Affair

Zalo is not just for Vietnamese based customers, it now has users in 28 countries and territories where many Vietnamese people live, such as the US, Russia and Macau.

Zalo, developed by Vietnamese company VinaGame, joined OTT service market last year and has won over Vietnamese users. Photo

Vu Quoc Minh, who works at a construction company in South Korea, often talks with his brother in Viet Nam on mobile phone to get updates and news from home twice a week, using Zalo he does not have to pay anything except for 4G Internet connection fee.

When he first went to South Korea in 2011, he installed the Viber application to chat for free with his family. However, at the beginning of this year, he added one more, Zalo.

For Minh, he gains more than just free communications from Zalo, compared with the other OTT services he can connect with people within his own community.

"When I realised I could make contact with other Vietnamese labourers and find friends living nearby using a special function offered on Zalo I made new friends, so now I can now chat with them when I have free time. I feel less lonely," he said.

Hanoian student Pham Bich Hop installed Zalo after the Viber app she had on her phone started to slow down with operating errors. Now studying Italy, she has an Italian SIM card but still uses Zalo.

"Viber always lags while Zalo is rather stable. I've picked up Zalo for this reason; however, I still use the two services at the same time because only a few of my friends have installed the new service," Hop said.

The "Z" Factor

Besides online games, the company is well-known in Viet Nam for its series of products on websites such as the Zing Me social network and Zing Mp3 providing digital music.

After expanding into the mobile phone market, they kept its brand identity Zing by combining with "Alo", the Vietnamese way of saying "Hello" when picking up the phone, to create Zalo.

The graph provided by VNG shows the increase of Zalo. It reaches to five million users on September 25 and still grows.

The Zalo development team launched a test run for Android and iOS operating systems at the beginning of August 2012 to celebrate Zing's five-year anniversary. However, it found it difficult to attract new users.

"After one month, the development team realised the web-based architecture was not appropriate for mobile phones. It used a lot of battery and had operating faults. So, we decided to rewrite Zalo to optimise the application for the mobile environment," Khai said.

The application with the new computer architecture was officially released at the end of November in the same year. It was designed to run on the Vietnamese Internet network, including wireless broadband connections 2G, 2.5G and 3G, in order to support smart phones with Android and iOS operating systems, as well as on Windows Phone.

The first "Made-in-Viet Nam" OTT service had a total number of five million users making a total of 55 million texts and voice messages by September 25 and the quantity of newcomers continues to increase day after day, according to the company.

Zalo was inspired by the success of Viettel group, who joined local telecommunications market later than the two big providers, MobiFone and VinaPhone, but still attracted many users by targeting to low-income users.

Zalo first concentrated on Android and iOS users, then it appeared at the Nokia store in November 2012. Its version for the Windows Phone went public in July this year, thereby marking its mark on all the core mobile phone operating systems. — VNS

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