France Telecom-Orange is making Facebook accessible to all consumers using its networks in Africa through a new service delivered by unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) technology.
All users need to do to access Facebook using this service is to type a code into their phone to open a Facebook USSD session and enter a PIN – created using their Facebook log-in details – to securely access the service. Once connected, they can then search for friends, manage friend requests, update their status and comment on their friends’ updates, using a text-based interface.
USSD is a low-bandwidth network that sends information over 2G networks, meaning it can be accessed by the most basic phones without internet connectivity. Mobile users in the region are familiar with the technology as it is already used for a number of services in Africa.
Orange claims to be the first operator in the region to offer Facebook in this way, allowing millions of customers to access the social network site, many for the first time.
The operator group expects more than a million customers to use the service during the first year of availability. The service was launched for Mobinil customers in Egypt at the end of last year and more than 350,000 users connected to Facebook using USSD during the first month of availability.
The service will be launched in Orange Côte d'Ivoire this month, with further African markets in which Orange has a presence following during the year. The pricing options will be for 10 or 20 minutes, per day, week or month although exact tariffs will be confirmed as the service rolls out in each country.
Orange has previously launched other services aimed at opening up access to digital services in emerging markets, including Google SMS chat, email delivered via SMS and Alcatel One Touch phones with Facebook integration.