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Zuckerberg makes case for free mobile data; operators cautious


March.04.2015 0 Comments

Mark Zuckerberg told delegates at Mobile World Congress (MWC) that offering free basic internet services can help mobile operators grow their businesses faster in emerging markets.

Under questioning from Wired Magazine’s Jessi Hempel, the founder and chief executive of Facebook said internet.org “works”.

A Facebook-led initiative, internet.org has the aim of connecting everyone on the planet. As part of making that happen, the Facebook CEO wants to raise awareness of the internet. One way, he contends, is for mobile operators to offer some services for free. And once users get a free taste of the internet – so this argument goes – they’ll be more inclined to pay for mobile data.

The internet.org app, rolled out in six countries since its mid-2014 launch in Zambia, offers a suite of basic services – including Facebook – without charge. Zuckerberg said there was no cannibalisation of revenue among operator partners, with customers not deserting paid data for free services.

Mario Zanotti, senior vice president of operations at Millicom, an internet.org partner, said first signs were encouraging. Joining Zuckerberg on stage, Zanotti said there was a 30 per cent increase in data users when free data packages were launched in Paraguay, which then led to more paid data users. In Tanzania, he said there was a 10 per cent increase in smartphone sales after internet.org was launched, although he stressed it was still early days.

Christian De Faria, chief executive of Airtel Africa, another internet.org partner, would not be drawn on detail regarding the internet.org business, only to say there was no adverse business impact.

Jon Fredrik Baksaas, chief executive of Telenor Group – which is not an internet.org partner – was the most sceptical among the panel. He maintained that any initial encouraging statistics would need to be sustainable. “Only then,” he said, “would there be a business proposition.”