By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Global telecom operator VEON said on Wednesday it was making progress in its strategy to reinvent itself as an online player by introducing its messaging and mobile services app in four new markets, including its largest in Russia and Pakistan.
The messaging app, which is designed to compete with the likes of Facebook Inc's WhatsApp and Rakuten Inc's Viber, offers free services to customers via its mobile network without users incurring data charges as other apps do.
It was introduced late last year to customers of its Wind Tre joint venture, which VEON, formerly known as Vimpelcom, runs in Italy with CK Hutchison of Hong Kong. Two more markets where VEON will offer the app are Ukraine and Georgia.
Italian users will receive an upgraded version of the messaging app later this week, the company said in a blog post.
VEON aims to offer basic communication for free, while taking a cut of proceeds from partnerships with popular internet services it offers through its app, using data insights it can glean as a network operator.
A VEON spokesman provided few further details, saying the company plans to make the self-titled VEON messaging app available in major app stores for customers to download and that other details will be announced at local events in coming weeks.
Deals are expected to range from streaming music to ride-hailing to retail to financial services offers. Early partners have included music streaming service Deezer and credit card company Mastercard.
Amsterdam-based VEON is working to overhaul its classic mobile phone business by offering free or low cost services. It ranks among the world's 10 largest communications network operators, with around 235 million customer in 13 countries.
VEON's makeover is among the more radical reincarnations being considered by the world's telecom industry, which is stuck in a rut of falling prices and tight regulation. (reut.rs/2mkvXXm)
(Reporting By Eric Auchard; Editing by Maria Sheahan)