French operator Orange Group is launching a service to make Facebook accessible on any phone across its footprint in Africa.
The operator will launch the service in Côte d'Ivoire this month, followed by other markets throughout 2012.
Orange will use USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) technology, a low-bandwidth data service that is accessible from even the most basic phones, to provide mobile access to Facebook to millions of customers in Africa.
Orange said that users with older or very basic handsets without an internet connection or data plan will be able to use Facebook through a “simple and affordable text-based service”.
USSD is a technology used by all GSM mobile devices to send information across a 2G network, and is already used widely in Africa for services such account information and callback services. As USSD is familiar in the region, and as there is no barrier in terms of handset requirements, Orange expects that over one million customers will use the service in the first year.
Orange launched this service at the end of 2011 for Mobinil customers in Egypt, and more than 350,000 customers connected Facebook via USSD in the first month.
This new service forms part of Orange’s strategy to expand access to mobile services such as Facebook to the widest possible range of customers. This is the latest in a series of services designed to open up access to digital services in emerging markets such Google SMS chat and email via SMS, and the exclusive Alcatel One Touch range of phones with deep Facebook integration.
“Social networks such as Facebook have completely changed how people stay in contact with their family and friends, and it’s important that our customers, regardless of the phone they have, are able to access and participate in these services,” said Xavier Perret, vice president of strategic partnerships at Orange. “We feel that it is our role to help our customers enjoy a digitally rich, connected life, and services such as Facebook via USSD this make that possible for even more of our customers.”
No special applications are required to use Facebook via USSD. Customers only need to type a specific code into their phone to open a Facebook via USSD session and enter a PIN code to access the service securely. If the customer is using Facebook via USSD for the first time, they will have to register by providing their Facebook login, Facebook password and by creating a PIN code.
Once connected to Facebook via USSD, customers can search for friends, invite friends, accept or deny friend requests, update their status and comment/like/unlike their friend’s status’. Customers will have the choice between four types of pricing: per session (10 to 20 minutes), daily, weekly and monthly. Exact bundles and tariffs will be confirmed by each country as the service comes to market.
Operators in Africa are increasingly attempting to lure subscribers with value added service such as push email and access to social networking sites from basic handsets. Last year, Airtel Africa said that it planned to launch services including instant messaging, push email and social networking access across its operations in Africa.