Google is extending its reach to the millions without Internet access in hopes to push people in the developing world to access the Internet via basic mobile phones. With the Free Zone service, users can access Google features such as search and Gmail for free from a basic mobile phone, browsing any website that Google’s search results pull up.
Those who want to view websites outside of Google’s search will have to subscribe to their mobile operator’s data plan. However, given how many websites show up in Google’s search results, that is not likely to be a problem for anyone.
The Free Zone service is being launched first in the Philippines with help from Globe Telecom, a local carrier in the area. The companies hope that by doing so, users of feature phones will start using their phones for more than just calls and text messages, and will sign up for Internet services, which would result in both Google and Globe making quite a bit of revenue.
This is just the start, of course. While the Philippines has proven to take to mobile phones well, there are many out there whose phones are not advanced enough for Internet services or cannot afford data plans. While smartphones may be selling quite well in the Philippines, they currently account for less than a quarter of all mobile phones, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Given the quality of mobile phones these days, accessing the Internet with them is an easy feat, only made complicated by the costs of a data plan. With Free Zone, Google and Globe aim to resolve that problem and connect more people to the World Wide Web.
According to Abdel Karim Mardini, Google’s product manager, "It's aimed at the next billion users of the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone, without ever owning a PC."
With so much online and so many ways to access the Internet, it’s easy to forget just how many people are still without Internet access. Google’s Free Zone will make it easier for many more people, who have good phones but no computer, to get connected. Naturally, Google will also be gaining some revenue from advertisements, as only sites from Google searches will be available for free, but given all that it’s doing, I think it deserves it.
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