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Facebook’s new Messenger exec hire could lead to big break in India

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Anand Chandrasekaran, via Facebook

Facebook is hiring an influential new exec for its Messenger platform in an effort to make more inroads into India, and the rest of the world.

Anand Chandrasekaran, who previously served as a senior exec at Yahoo, is set to lead Messenger’s global charge, according to the Wall Street Journal. Facebook has confirmed the hire, but remains silent on Chandrasekaran’s job title.

Arguably even more important than his ties to Silicon Valley are his India contacts. After departing from Yahoo, Chandrasekaran joined India’s largest telecommunications service Bharti Airtel, where he served as chief product officer. His most recent role was chief product officer at Indian e-commerce startup Snapdeal.

Related: Facebook is now letting you pay for things through the Messenger platform

With Messenger hitting 1 billion global users earlier this year, Facebook is intent on capitalizing upon its success. It’s likely Chandrasekaran will be tasked with helping the app expand in Asia — where it faces fierce competition from rival messaging app WeChat — with a particular focus on India (the world’s second-largest smartphone market). Facebook already has a foothold in the country thanks to its WhatsApp service, which boasted 70 million Indian users at last count. Facebook is actively trying to tap into that data, but is facing opposition in the country in the form of an ongoing public interest litigation currently being overseen by the Delhi High Court.

Facebook’s flagship platform’s penetration is even higher than WhatsApp, with over 142 million users located in India, the majority of which (133 million) access the site via mobile. The company’s efforts to expand upon its success in the country have thus far focused on increasing connectivity. Despite meeting with roadblocks from the Indian government over its Free Basics program, Facebook has pushed ahead thanks to its recently launched Express Wi-Fi service for rural areas.

Another threat (and opportunity) comes in the form of Indian cellular carrier Reliance Jio’s new 4G data plan, which claims to be the cheapest in the world. Like Facebook, Reliance also aims to introduce mobile connectivity to rural areas. However, instead of Wi-Fi, its goal is to provide 90 percent of the country with access to 4G LTE.

Currently, social media platforms are stripping down their services in order to reach Indian users. However, a connected India with access to affordable data could change all that by providing an inevitable boon for messaging services, such as Messenger and WhatsApp — although Jio’s own messaging app’s popularity poses a worrying trend for its foreign rivals.

An influential hire such as Chandrasekaran could therefore help Facebook tap into the Indian market. Facebook’s initial plans involve rolling out internet beyond India’s urban areas, but its future also depends on those connected users choosing its platforms above all others.