Facebook takes aim at 'connecting the unconnected'

Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook's vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, talks with Aquilino Pena of Kibo Ventures last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Facebook wasn’t shy about touting its progress in wireless last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but the company acknowledged that a lot of work has yet to be done.

“We think there’s still a lot of work to do in connecting the unconnected,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, during a low-key presentation at the show. “Most people–4 billion–are still unconnected.”

The social network didn’t have a high-profile presence at this year’s conference, but it used the opportunity to cite the momentum of the Telecom Infra Project it launched at MWC 2016. The TIP, which has grown from five members to more than 450 partners in the last year, is Facebook’s effort to bring together operators, vendors, system integrators and other technology companies to collaborate and accelerate innovation in the telecom industry.

Mendelsohn appeared during a fireside chat with Aquilino Pena of Kibo Ventures, a Madrid-based venture capital firm specializing in early-stage internet and mobile companies. Mendelsohn said Facebook is delivering 100 million hours of video every day, but she also pointed to its recent efforts to expand its messaging services to businesses.

“We’re seeing, through (services such as) Messenger and WhatsApp, 60 billion messages a day,” she said, claiming that figure marks a threefold increase over SMS activity at its peak. “The things that people are telling us is that it really makes it easier to have a lot of your information in one place, in one thread, and that makes it easy for the person and the business to interact together.”

Facebook in January launched what it called “a very small test” in Australia and Thailand enabling businesses to place ads on the home screen of its Messenger offering. The offering helps businesses interact with consumers via Messenger, although advertisers can’t message users directly unless the consumer initiates the interaction.

Facebook also said last week that it’s participating in a fiber build in northwest Uganda covering about 770 kilometers that, when completed, will provide backhaul connectivity covering more than 3 million people in the country while enabling future cross-border connectivity to neighboring countries. It’s working with Airtel Uganda and Bandwidth & Cloud Services Group (BCS), a wholesale bandwidth provider focused on deploying infrastructure in East Africa.