Messaging giant Line becomes a phone carrier in Japan

Line Mobile will give you unlimited access to chat, Facebook and Twitter.

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi

Line already dominates phones in some corners of the world through its messaging app and rapidly expanding list of services, but it's now taking that control one step further: it's becoming a carrier. As of this summer, Japanese residents can subscribe to Line Mobile and get unlimited use of not only Line's chat and call services, but the "main features" (browsing and posts) of Facebook and Twitter. It's cheap, too. The DoCoMo-based virtual provider will start plans at as little as ¥500 ($4.40) per month with unlimited Line use, and it's considering offering Line Points (cash back on Line's payment card) when you pay your phone bill.

The low rates and unlimited usage perks aren't altruistic gestures, of course. Line notes that only half of Japanese cellphone owners have smartphones -- the rest are still using basic feature phones. If the company can convince those holdouts to upgrade to smartphones, they're more likely to use Line's apps and services. Think of this like you would the free internet efforts from Facebook and Google, where the network costs could easily be offset by the surge in new users.