Detailed on the Facebook Newsroom, the social network is leading the charge in attempting to expand the availability of Internet access to billions of people around the globe that can’t access the Web due to prohibitive cost or lack of Internet service. Launching a new site called Internet.org, Facebook will be working with companies like Samsung, Qualcomm and Nokia to create more efficient, less expensive mobile hardware and software that provides a connection to the World Wide Web. Other companies that have pledged support to the effort include Ericsson, Opera Software and MediaTek.
Similar to Google’s Project Loon, the Internet.org coalition will look for cheaper methods of building infrastructure in countries where none exists. In addition, the group will invest in building low-cost, high quality smartphones for people within these countries as well as decreasing the complexity of software to increase overall efficiency.
When asked about the new initiative, Facebook CES Mark Zuckerberg said “Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect. There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.“
While the goals of Internet.org are certainly presented as being altruistic, the race among tech companies to enter fresh, emerging markets is certainly top of mind for all businesses. As pointed out by the New York Times, the U.S. and European markets are heavily saturated with consumers that have already purchased mobile devices and use social networks on a regular basis. Alternatively, countries within Asia, Africa and South America are ripe for opportunity assuming the Internet.org coalition can figure out how to deliver inexpensive, reliable Internet access to rural and remote areas.
Assuming the coalition is successful at creating infrastructure and distributing hardware, they will also attempt to create service options that allow people to use social networks and search engines as well as read and reply to email for little to no cost each month.
On Facebook’s end, they are attempting to reduce data consumed by the Facebook mobile application. For instance, the average Facebook user on an Android device uses approximately 12 megabytes a day. Zuckerberg is attempting to reduce that to 1 megabyte per day.
It’s likely that Opera will attempt to accomplish the same goal by optimizing data loading speeds when using the browser on a mobile device. Alternatively, a hardware company like Qualcomm will work to increase the connectivity range within mobile devices as well as reduce battery requirements when transmitting or receiving data.
Outside of Internet.org, Twitter has an ongoing relationship with a couple hundred cell phone companies around the world in order to provide free access to the social network through basic cell phones. In addition, Mozilla rolled out a couple new Firefox OS powered smartphones last month and plan to enter markets within Europe, South America and Asia. Available in prepaid models, the Firefox OS smartphone can access email, messaging and the Firefox Web browser as well as Facebook and Twitter.