Once they’ve signed up to a Google account, users will be able to visit any links found in search free of charge, although clicking through to another page will result in data fees (provided the user accepts the charge via a pop-up warning).
Google launched the service in the Philippines in partnership with local carrier Globe Telecom, and will likely launch in other territories soon.
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.
Google makes most of its money through ads on web pages. It says it plans to roll out the service in other countries soon.
Facebook has a similar service, 0.facebook.com, which gives users free access to Facebook.
Using 0.facebook.com is completely free. People will only pay for data charges when they view photos or when they leave 0.facebook.com to browse other mobile sites. It initially is available through more than 50 mobile operators in 45 countries and territories with zero data charges.
Google tells Reuters that Free Zone is 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.”
Web browser maker Opera announced today a new way for mobile operators to offer web access to subscribers who don’t have a data plan.
The service, called “Opera Web Pass,” will instead allow subscribers to purchase temporary web access for an hour or a day, or even just purchase access to a particular online service like Facebook or Google+.
Typically, smartphone subscribers who don’t want to pay for a mobile data plan can purchase a prepaid or pay-as-you go device at a lower cost.
The Opera web solution, however, requires Opera to have a deal with the carrier in advance, explains TechCrunch.
The company is kicking off its launch with DiGi Telecommunications in Malaysia, which will become the first mobile operator to offer the option. DiGi and Opera both jointly developed the product, and Opera expects more operators to come on board.
In other news, Google is increasing the cash it allocates to Google Ventures, its venture-capital arm up to $300 million a year, from $200 million. It puts the firm on the same footing as more established corporate venture funds such as Intel’s Intel Capital, which typically invests $300-$500 million a year.