Much has been written about the stunning growth of mobile telephony in Africa. It is estimated that the continent will have more than 735 million subscribers by the end of 2012.
However, a large percentage of the mobile phones in Africa are very basic models with no internet connectivity, and subsequently no access to social networks such as Facebook.
This is set to change. Mobile operator Orange has launched a service that will allow users to access Facebook from even the simplest handsets.
“Facebook is already well established in Africa, since it already has 40 million users. On the other hand, most of these users are on fixed connections. And Facebook has made a huge priority of developing mobile users. Today the people who use Facebook on their mobiles are mainly people … who can afford to pay the price of the mobile web. Our concern at Orange is really to offer customers a solution which allows them to access Facebook from absolutely any device,” said Pauline Hirsch, partnerships manager at Orange.
This service is made possible through technology called USSD (short for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), which is currently used by all GSM mobile phones to send information across a 2G network. USSD is already used on the continent for services such as account information and callback services.
Orange says that no special applications are needed to use Facebook via USSD. Users only need to type a specific code into their phone to open a Facebook via USSD session and enter a PIN code to access the service securely. According to the company, users will be able to update their status, make comments, and invite new friends.
France Telecom, owner of the Orange brand, first launched the Facebook via USSD service towards the end of 2011 in Egypt. The company today announced that the service will start in Côte d’Ivoire this month, with other African countries to be added throughout 2012. It expects that over one million subscribers will use the service in the first year. France Telecom has a presence in 15 African countries.