Facebook, mobile carriers offer free access to site

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook has teamed up with 50 wireless operators to offer cellphone users a stripped-down version of the social networking site that can be accessed without incurring data charges.

The Facebook logo is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels, April 21, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

The new site, dubbed, is a text-only version of Facebook’s flagship Internet site and is specially designed for mobile phones with limited bandwidth Internet connections.

The new site will be available beginning on Tuesday in 40 different countries, including Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey from a variety of carriers.

The new site comes as the world’s largest Internet social network continues to grow its base and looks for ways to increase the amount of time Web surfers spend using its service.

At the company’s annual developer’s conference last month, Facebook introduced new technology that allows third-party Web sites to integrate Facebook features directly.

Roughly one quarter of Facebook’s 400 million users access the site on mobile devices, according to the company.

But Facebook wants to make the service more accessible to cell phone users who do not own high-end smartphones such as Apple Inc’s iPhone, or phones based on Google Inc’s Android software.

“We are targeting people whose major barrier is they have little experience on the mobile Internet. They want to try it, they want something super simple, super fast. And they are potentially afraid of browsing costs,” said Henri Moissinac, who heads Facebook’s mobile business. “If you take an iPhone user in San Francisco, that’s not his problem.”

Among the carriers partnering with Facebook are Reliance and Videocon in India (with Tata Docomo coming soon), T-Mobile in Hungary and Vodafone in Greece.

Customers of the participating wireless operators will be able to access the new Facebook site without paying any wireless data charges, Facebook said.

The 0.facebook site offers the same capabilities as Facebook’s standard website, allowing members to view their news feed, comment on posts and send messages.

But 0.facebook will not feature any photos or videos -- Web surfers can link to view photos and videos, although they will be charged standard wireless data fees by their carriers at that point.

Facebook is not paying the wireless operators any money to reimburse them for the free usage they provide and there are no financial terms to the partnerships, said Moissinac.

In addition to many so-called emerging economies in which 0.facebook will be offered, the site will be available in the United Kingdom, Finland and Hong Kong, among other places.

While the United States is not among the countries in which Facebook has operator deals, Moissinac said he hoped the site would eventually be available there as well.

Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; editing by Andre Grenon