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Twitter wants to work on phones that don’t have data access at all

Twitter could be about to increase its user base significantly with news that the company has partnered with a Singapore-based start-up to bring the microblogging service to handsets that lack Internet access.

U2opia Mobile’s Fonetwish service, which uses a telecom protocol known as Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), allows users to dial a number in order to receive a feed of Twitter’s trending topics at any given time.

The move could see millions of people in emerging markets trying Twitter for the first time, though the service, which is due to launch by March 2014, will be text-based as the technology doesn’t allow for the transmission of images or videos.

“USSD as a vehicle for Twitter is almost hand-in-glove because Twitter has by design a character limit, it’s a very text-driven social network,” U2opia chief executive and co-founder Sumesh Menon told Reuters this week, adding, “For a lot of end users in the emerging markets, it’s going to be their first Twitter experience.”

Twitter, which currently has around 230 million users, is looking for ways to boost its user base in fast-developing countries such as India and Brazil, nations where smartphone ownership and Internet access aren’t yet as widespread as in other parts of the world. Getting users on board now means a new audience for ads and a chance to build brand loyalty for when improved technology infrastructure allows users to switch to Internet-connected handsets and enjoy a more feature-rich Twitter experience. 

U2opia already operates a similar service for Facebook, and Google Talk also uses the company’s technology, Reuters reported.

Using different technology but with the same aim of bringing its platform to more users in emerging markets, the social networking giant two years ago launched its Facebook For Every Phone app, offering basic functionality for users of feature phones, with the company reporting over the summer that more than 100 million people around the world are now using it on around 3,000 models of such devices.

When U2opia’s service kicks off in 2014, Twitter will also be hoping for a significant boost to its user base as the year progresses.