Facebook, working with Reliance Communications, now is offering free access to 30 mobile Internet applications in India.
The apps are available to 106.3 million Reliance Communications customers, without the need to purchase a mobile data plan, in seven of India’s 22 regions, with full nationwide deployment within three months.
Less than 20 percent of India’s people can access the Internet, meaning there are one billion people who potentially could gain access using the sponsored app approach.
Aimed at low income and rural users, the sponsored apps offer free access to content focused on job listings, agricultural information, healthcare and education sites in seven regional languages, plus Facebook’s own social network and messaging apps.
The details of the business arrangement are not available, but one has to assume Reliance Communications is compensated in some way for providing the no-extra-charge mobile Internet access required to use the apps.
Reliance says it has invested incrementally in its network to handle the expected increase in traffic.
The hope is that users, once accustomed to having internet access, will want to buy mobile data plans that provide access to other apps as well.
Facebook apparently has partnered with more than 150 wireless providers to offer free or discounted access to its social network.
The “sponsored apps” package was developed by Internet.org, a non-profit organization backed byEricsson , Nokia, Samsung, Qualcomm and Opera Software.
Sponsored apps are one way many believe Internet access can be made more accessible to non-users in many parts of the world.