Mark Zuckerberg, during his keynote appearance at the Mobile World Congress, said his Internet.org coalition, is geared toward encouraging wireless carriers in emerging markets to offer a free tier of Internet service, with the goal of encouraging wireless subscribers to pay for additional Internet access, reports Fierce Wireless. Facebook posted $7.8 billion in annual revenue last year and bought messaging service WhatsApp for $19 Billion last week.
Zuckerberg said that fully 80 percent of the world’s population is covered by 3G and 2G networks, and most of those people could afford to purchase at least small amounts of wireless data.
“The most expensive part of connecting to the Internet with a smartphone isn’t the smartphone, it’s the data plan,” he said.
Facebook’s partnership with Philippine mobile operator Globe Telecom, is the first in the world to provide Free Facebook access to its millions of customers.
Internet.org works by providing free access to services like Facebook, and Zuckerberg says it’s early days, but promising.
An internet.org white paper called “A Focus on Efficiency” – published last September – said the current global cost of delivering data is around one hundred times too expensive to make it ‘economically feasible’ to provide basic internet services for everyone.
Zuckerberg called for three to five additional wireless carriers to join his Internet.org effort and test out a free tier of Internet service for at least a year so that other wireless carriers could then use the model in their own markets.
Zuckerberg also talked about WhatsApp that Facebook bought for $19 billion. Internet.org gave WhatsApp instant global scale and connectivity.
“If they [WhatsApp] did this as an independent company they would have had to focus on how to build the company out, to scale it, but now they can focus on how to connect the one to two billion people,” explained Zuckerberg.
WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum signed the papers on the $19 billion deal last week on the door of the welfare office and announced that WhatsApp will receive voice calling capabilities in Q2 of 2014.
Zuckerberg said the free tier of service could include social networking, Internet search and market information like weather forecasts and food prices.
Relatively unknown until now in the U.S., WhatsApp has 465 million monthly users according to its founder. It is ad-free and costs users 99 cents a year after a first free year. WhatsApp has more users than the better known short messaging service, Twitter.
Voice calling will be enabled by an app for iOS and Android devices, which only takes a comparative sliver of spectrum. Facebook will target Korea’s dominant VoIP app KakaoTalk first. At a later date Facebook may take on the entire telecom edifice.