The Facebook-backed Internet.org initiative, which aims to bring internet connectivity to the poor and underserved, announced a partnership with emerging markets carrier Airtel on Thursday that will see the Internet.org app provide free basic services to users in Zambia.
At launch, Airtel subscribers with a capable device can use the app to browse a set of useful health, employment and local information services without data charges. By providing free basic services via the app, Facebook and Airtel hope to bring more people online and help them discover valuable services.
The news is a significant development for Internet.org, which launched last year, as it marks the participation of the first major league operator in the project.
At launch almost one year ago, Facebook assembled Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung to drive the project, aiming to “make internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected, and to bring the same opportunities to everyone that the connected third of the world has today.”
Affordability and awareness are significant barriers to internet adoption for many and much of what Internet.org has set out to achieve in terms of the efficiency of mobile networks and pressure on device costs is already drawing significant focus from the industry. Ericsson has driven power requirements from its network equipment down by ten per cent every year for the last five years and this will remain an important area of focus, meanwhile at the front end much work can be done to optimise smartphone applications so that they require less data to be transmitted back and forth, the group said.
With that in mind, the Internet.org app claims to make the internet accessible to more people by providing a set of free basic services, including AccuWeather, Facebook and Facebook Messenger, Google Search, Go Zambia Jobs and Wikipedia, among others.
Airtel has many other markets across India and Africa that may see the app in the future. Earlier this week Bharti Airtel said that it has crossed the 300 million customer mark across its operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa.
Bharti Airtel launched operations in 1995 out of India and reached the 100 million customers mark in 2009, topping 200 million in 2012. The company has now added another 100 million customers in less than two years, making it the fourth largest mobile service provider globally in terms of subscribers and the second largest outside of China, where China Mobile holds the crown.