Facebook today stepped up its assault on SMS, announcing that its Messenger app for Android will no longer require a Facebook account. Android users can access the app and sign up with just a name and phone number, and recipients who aren’t on Facebook will be prompted to download Facebook Messenger on their handsets. The policy will initially be implemented in only a handful of markets — not including the U.S. — before rolling out around the world.
This is an aggressive move from Facebook, signalling the company’s plan to become the top mobile messaging platform in the world. Other players here include Apple’s iMessage and the third-party app WhatsApp, which earlier this week was rumored to be a Facebook acquisition target. And it’s no coincidence that Facebook’s new policy is initially rolling out in some markets where Research In Motion has gained traction with BlackBerry Messenger. Facebook has just upped the stakes in a very important battleground for carriers, which have long enjoyed ridiculously high margins on SMS. Those operators should be scrambling to find ways to add value to text messaging and prevent customers from dropping their messaging plans in favor of non-SMS offerings.