Facebook expands to African feature phones via Orange partnership
Facebook is teaming with France Telecom's mobile subsidiary Orange to deliver social networking capabilities to all phones across the operator's African footprint.
Click here to watch a video about Facebook via USSD. Note the video is in French with English subtitles.
The Facebook/Orange partnership leverages Unstructured Supplementary Service Data technology, a low-bandwidth data service accessible from even the most basic feature phones, enabling Orange subscribers with an Internet connection or data plan to interact with family and friends via text-based services. According to Orange, USSD is used by all GSM mobile devices to transmit information across a 2G network and is already in wide adoption across Africa for multiple services--given USSD's foothold in the African market, Orange expects more than a million customers will use the Facebook service in its first year.
Orange subscribers do not need to download an application to begin using Facebook via USSD--to begin a social networking session, they simply type a designated code into their handset. Once connected to the service, Orange customers can search for friends, accept or deny friend requests, invite additional contacts, update their status and comment/like/unlike friends' posts. Orange will offer multiple pricing options, including per-session (10 to 20 minutes), daily, weekly and monthly. All bundles and tariffs will be announced by each Orange affiliate as it brings Facebook via USSD to market; Orange Côte d'Ivoire will introduce the service this month, with additional markets rolling out throughout 2012.
The Orange partnership opens up a significant new geographic opportunity for Facebook. Earlier this month, the social networking giant filed IPO paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission, indicating plans to raise $5 billion. Recent trading of Facebook stock on private exchanges points to a valuation of more than $80 billion; last year, the firm reported revenues of $3.7 billion, driven by online advertising and sales of virtual goods. But Facebook has acknowledged that it faces challenges monetizing its mobile efforts: "We currently do not show ads or directly generate any meaningful revenue from users accessing Facebook through our mobile products," the company wrote in its IPO filing.
Reports indicate Facebook plans to roll out a mobile advertising platform early next month--last week, the company also announced an agreement with mobile payment and analytics solutions firm Bango, with multiple news outlets reporting the deal heralds the imminent introduction of in-app payment services and operator billing options across Facebook's mobile platform. "Many people with mobile devices in emerging markets are not going to have credit cards or bank accounts," Enders Analysis head of Internet Ian Maude tells The Financial Times. "A lot of people in those markets will only access Facebook via mobile devices and the only way they can transact online is through something like Bango, where you can charge it back to the mobile operator."
Facebook now tops 850 million users worldwide, with more than 425 million users accessing the platform via mobile device each month. Nielsen reports that Facebook is the most popular application across all mobile operating systems.
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