CAPE TOWN--Facebook revealed that it will launch the Internet.org app in Kenya later this week, marking the third country in Africa to get free access to basic Internet services via the Facebook-led initiative.
Speaking at the AfricaCom conference here, Chris Daniels, vice president of Internet.org at Facebook, said the social networking giant had teamed up with mobile operator Airtel Kenya to offer free basic services to subscribers. The app enables people to browse health, education, finance, employment, communication and local information services without data charges. It naturally includes free access to Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
Facebook has already launched Internet.org with a similar range of free basic services in Zambia together with Airtel and in Tanzania with Tigo, operated by Millicom. The initiative is part of the company's ongoing efforts to get more people globally online--and of course on Facebook.
At the same time, Daniels also emphasised that moves such as these only work for operators if they bring paying customers online.
Indeed, in a somewhat humbler message than has perhaps been usual in the past from Facebook executives, Daniels continually stressed the need to cooperate with operators and enable them to invest further in their networks: "Any offer we put on the table that does not make money for operators does not make sense," he said. "Operators need to be able to invest."
Operators may not be the ones who will create the next over-the-top (OTT) player such as Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp (which Facebook now owns), but as Daniels made clear, neither will Facebook be building the next communications network, even though it is working on some R&D projects such as high-altitude solar-powered planes to help improve coverage.
"We have put ourselves in the shoes of the operators," Daniels proclaimed. "Goal number one is to make money for the operators."
Daniels revealed the next move for Internet.org in a keynote speech that also noted that 100 million people are now using Facebook in Africa, out of 1.35 billion people globally. He added that 80 per cent of people in Africa are still not connected to the Internet, compared to two thirds globally.
The Internet.org push into Africa also comes after Mozilla said last week that phones running its web-based Firefox OS will soon launch in Africa. The company is pushing into a major smartphone growth region at a time when competing smartphone platforms like Google's Android are also targeting the entry-level market.
Airtel, MTN South Africa and Tigo will be the first carriers to bring Firefox OS devices to market in Africa, according to Mozilla. In Firefox OS, all of the phone's features are developed as HTML5 applications. Mozilla has targeted Firefox phones to sell for around $25 (€20.05) to $35, especially in markets like India. Currently Firefox OS has launched with carrier partners in 25 markets across Europe, Latin America, Asia and Australia.
Mozilla to bring Firefox OS to Africa, partners with GSMA to help emerging markets develop web content
Google unveils $105 Android One phones in India, promises to expand to more partners and countries
Facebook's Connectivity Lab aims to spread Internet access via satellites, drones and lasers
Facebook: We're not building a wireless network
Facebook's Zuckerberg pushes for free tier of wireless Internet access during MWC keynote