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China's Tencent messaging app may no longer be free: government official

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Users of Tencent Holdings' hugely popular mobile chatting application may have to pay fees in future to satisfy China's three mobile telecom operators, Chinese media quoted a government official as saying on Sunday.

Tencent's Weixin, or WeChat, chatting application (app) is currently free and has more than 300 million users. The app is positioned as the next bright revenue spot for Tencent.

However, media reported that Chinese telecom operators such as China Mobile Ltd, China Unicom and China Telecom Corp, are looking to charge users for the app because of its large data bandwidth use.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the regulatory body that governs the Internet and telecommunications sectors, is looking at the possibility of users having to pay a small fee to the telcos to use the app, said Miao Wei, head of the ministry, according to Caixin Media.

Experts say charging a fee could affect its popularity.

Tencent, China's largest online gaming and social networking company, said recently it plans to invest heavily in Weixin to attract more overseas users.

Chinese media also reported this month that China Mobile is in the process of developing its mobile instant-messaging app, Fetion, to compete with Tencent better.

(Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by Paul Tait)

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