NICE, France--Facebook executive Markku Mäkeläinen took to the stage at TM Forum Live, here, to stress the benefits of the social networking giant's internet.org initiative, which is now available in 12 countries after it recently added Pakistan.
However, Facebook's head of global operator partnerships avoided the elephant in the room by refraining from mentioning an increasingly controversial aspect of the free application: zero rating. The fact that mobile operators provide some online services under internet.org free of charge has caused negative reactions in markets such as India, although Facebook continues to insist that any online access is better than none at all.
Mäkeläinen did nonetheless offer some insights into Facebook's approach to getting more people online in developing markets. He also highlighted some key requirements for the service to run effectively, such as ensuring users do not consume too much data, for example.
Essentially, the initiative attempts to overcome three barriers to going online that have been identified by Facebook: lack of infrastructure; the perceived lack of relevance of internet services; and affordability of devices and data services.
In an effort to get around access and affordability issues, the service has been designed to work as efficiently as possible so that it has the potential to work on 2G networks, which cover at least 90 per cent of the global population. Facebook is also working on a project called Aquila for unmanned planes, although Mäkeläinen stressed that this project is highly experimental.
To make the service more relevant to people's lives, Mäkeläinen observed that 92 languages would be required to reach 80 per cent of the world's population. That projection is based on Wikipedia, which has content in 52 languages and reaches 53 per cent of the population.
Affordability is tackled to a certain extent by offering 100 MB of data, which projections suggest is affordable for 80 per cent of people in the world. That compares to 34 per cent for 500 MB of data.
Mäkeläinen said that internet.org is now able to reach up to 1 billion people with more than 100 free basic services, and claims that the initiative has brought 9 million new users to the internet.
"This is just the beginning," he added, saying his goal is now to get the communications industry more involved. Future steps will be to investigate ways of monetising the services once users have been engaged, while internet.org has also been opened up to developers in the interests of openness.
Facebook has also just joined the TM Forum, which in turn confirmed a name change on Tuesday.
The new CEO of the industry body, Peter Sany said "T" will stand for "transformation" and "M" for "monetisation" in future.
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