Google and local carrier Globe Telecom on November 8, at the Philippines, launched Google’s ‘Free Zone’ – a first ever in the world service that enables mobile users with Internet-capable feature phones but no data service to access Google’s Web Search, Gmail, and Google+ social networking for free.
The free service is presumably intended to entice users to move up to more advanced phones and/or to more expensive data plans. Google and Globe hope that by offering a free layer of services they will entice users of feature phones to move beyond just making phone calls and sending SMS messages to sign up for Internet services. If the service is successful, it will expand into other countries. Google’s head of marketing for South East Asia, Derek Callow, said Google is glad to provide the service to Globe and will soon empower the service to other telcos in the Philippines and worldwide. The Google Free Zone service is initially available to more than 30 million Globe Prepaid and TM subscribers nationwide until March 31, 2013.
About Google’s Free Zone initiative, Google product manager AbdelKarim Mardini told Reuters: “It’s aimed at the next billion users of the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone, without ever owning a PC.” Free Zone would be an instance where Google’s record in offering free services for the broader good of the Internet is aligned with both market forces and Google’s long-term business goals, that is, users with limited income get initially free access to email, search, and the Internet; mobile telecom operators encourage more data use and gradually generate more revenue per subscriber; and, Google becomes the gateway to the Internet for many new users, encouraging brand loyalty and helping them in their competition with Facebook.
Facebook is ahead of Google in emerging economies largely because of Facebook Zero, a lightweight, text-only version of its core social networking capabilities designed for feature phones that was launched back in 2010 with over 50 mobile operators in 45 markets on board. With Facebook Zero, basic functions are available without data fees, meaning, users can exchange messages with their friends, expand their social networks, keep up with status updates, invite people to join via SMS, and accomplish many of the things that seem to make Facebook addictive for people.
Google is basically an advertising company which makes money by attracting users to its wide range of services, collecting and storing as much data as possible about those users, and then showing them targeted advertisements. Android, Google’s mobile operating system is open source and available to vendors for free because it brings Google new data on hundreds of millions of users and makes Google’s various services, together with the income generating ads, easily accessible. However, not all can have smart phones or even PCs. So, to get their “next billion users of the Internet,” Google is giving away Free Zone. And the first in that “next billion” will be coming from the Philippines.