Google has launched a service it hopes will lead to millions of people in the developing world having Internet access and Google's ads through basic mobile phones.
Google is launching the service, called Free Zone, first in the Philippines via local carrier Globe Telecom. The service allows phones with an Internet connection but limited functionality to access, for free, basic Google products like search, email and its social networking service Google+.
Users will be able to access websites that are found through Google's search-engine. Results that occur outside this parameter will prompt an invitation to subscribe to the mobile operator's data plan.
Product manager for Google, Abdel Karim Mardini, has stated: "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."
Google and Globe hope to entice users into further Internet phone use. Google feel that by offering a free layer of services the users of so-called feature phones will move beyond the routine aspects of making phone calls and sending SMS messages. Instead they hope they will sign up for Internet services.
Google’s profits are largely acquired from advertiser investment in the website and such new services will favour carriers.
Research has shown that developing countries are enthusiastic users of mobile technology. Daniel Miller, Professor of Anthropology at the University College London, has conducted research into mobile phone use in the developing world to show strong cultural connections between everyday life in these countries and the adoption of new technology.
While countries like the Philippines, where Google will launch its service, are among the early adopters of cell phones it has been noted that the phones currently being used still remain too basic for Internet services capacity. Other people are reluctant to financially invest in these expensive services.
According to consultancy IDC, mobile phones using Google's Android operating system account for three-quarters of all smartphones shipped. But that still leaves a lot of phones.
In the 12 months up to September this year, there was a three-fold growth of smartphone users in the Philippines. Yet despite boosting their share, such devices still accounted for only 24 per cent of all mobile phones.
Globe and Google are not the only players in the Philippines to target non-smartphone users by offering them a cheaper way to access Internet services. Their rival Smart Communications, who last year launched a pared-down Internet service, report that the half a million users who signed up spent 150 per cent more on average per month than its other subscribers.