Facebook's new mobile site has interesting implications for the data overload conundrum

As talk in the U.S. begins to center around usage-based pricing for data consumption in the future, I find Facebook's  strategy with its new mobile site. 0.facebook.com (see related story below), to be one that perhaps many mobile content providers could employ to drive traffic to their sites in a new pricing regime that might cause a subscriber to think twice about constantly visiting that site on their mobile phones.

Facebook, arguably the most-visited site on the mobile Web, announced that it has collaborated with some 50 mobile operators in 45 countries to allow subscribers to access the new streamlined site without any data charges. Interestingly, users can update statuses, view their news feeds, comment and post replies but they can't click on photos for free or go to third-party sites from Facebook without being charged.

The GSMA Mobile Media Metrics, published earlier this year, found that Facebook had 2.6 billion page impressions, nearly three times as many as Google and more than a third of the 6.7 billion total. The report found that nearly half of the total minutes online in December were spent on Facebook Mobile. In March, policy provider Sandvine released its semi-annual Internet traffic trends report that concluded Facebook is the most widely used application on mobile data networks, with users connecting on average once per hour.

Sandvine found that social networking overall accounts for up to 9 percent of total bytes on any given mobile network. Facebook is hardly a bandwidth hog, but if it decides to make its applications more media rich, such as enabling different kinds of connections with images and videos that can have a dramatic impact on the traffic patterns of networks, Sandvine said at the time.

So Facebook's model is an interesting one: Give subscribers the ability to act on their incessant need to check their Facebook page in a streamlined way, while operators have the ability to monetize the bigger spikes in data traffic associated with accessing photos, jumping to less efficient third-party sites and other data rich pieces of data down the line. It's a model that both content providers and operators need to start looking at in this new world where data traffic is skyrocketing and operators lose their ability to monetize it.--Lynnette