Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has acquired messaging app Viber for $900 million as it moves into the rapidly growing market.
Similar to Skype, Cyprus-based Viber lets smartphone users make free calls and send messages over the internet.
The acquisition gives Rakuten its first foothold in the mobile messaging market and it called the purchase a “bold step”. Viber has over 300 million registered users and operates in almost 200 countries.
Rakuten chairman and chief executive Hiroshi Mikitani said: "Simply put, Viber understands how people actually want to engage and have built the only service that truly delivers on all fronts. This makes Viber the ideal total consumer engagement platform for Rakuten."
Viber founder Talmon Marco said: "Our vision is to be the world’s numer one communications platform and our combination with Rakuten is an important step in that direction.”
Mobile messaging is seen as a key growth area for e-commerce companies in Asia, with retailers hoping to reach the large number of consumers who online access the internet through mobiles.
The hugely popular Chinese instant messaging app WeChat formd one of the cornerstones of e-commerce giant Tencent’s business.
Rakuten, the largest online retailer in Japan, has bought up a number of companies in the so-called “digital content” space in recent years as it looks to move beyond web-based retailing, including e-reader Kobo and video on demand service Wuaki.tv.