- Duncan Alfreds
Cape Town - Google on Tuesday unveiled a partnership with 8ta to provide free data access to users.
"So if you're accessing your Gmail through the Free Zone mobile webpage, that's a 100% free," Bryan Nelson, business development manager for Google SA told News24.
Users have to purchase a 8ta SIM card to access the service that was launched in the Philippines on Thursday as well.
Nelson said that Google was intent on partnering with multiple operators, but remained vague about expanding to the major South African mobile providers.
"This was launched in the Philippines on Thursday with Glo [Mobile]; 8ta followed up very quickly with the launch in South Africa, and we're in the process of launching with numerous operators all over the world."
Users log on to the Free Zone and have access to Google search results as well as the first outside link at no cost.
Even when a user has airtime on a device, the service is still accessible and a message on the screen keeps a user informed that he is on the Free Zone.
Upon leaving the free data area, users are prompted and if they have no data, they can purchase from 8ta directly.
In a demonstration, Nelson showed that the platform is optimised for older phones and users can access Gmail, Google+, but not competitor social networks like Facebook.
Google said that the service was primarily aimed at the first time internet user who the company said was
often charged the most expensive data rates, and was subsequently put off using phones to access the web.
"The main problem is that for the first time internet user, they don't necessarily understand what the value of data is and why it's in their best interests to purchase the appropriate data bundle for their needs. So their first experience of the internet is always on the highest possible data rate," said Nelson.
He said that the service would enable users who had little experience of using the internet to understand the value of the web as a resource.
"Now they can learn the internet; understand the value of the internet; understand the value of data and make an informed decision on what the appropriate data bundles are for them. We hope that the operators in South Africa
will join us in educating the market about this," Nelson said.
The service is only available on 8ta at present and it may be a difficult sell for Google to convince operators to give away data for free.
The service may also serve to entrench Google's dominant position as a search engine.
Nelson argued that by giving away the first page of Google search results, Gmail and Google+ data, users would feel more comfortable making data bundle purchases.
"We can't comment on any discussion with any of the other operators, but it's worth saying that by giving away some
access - by giving users who otherwise would not be using any data services... the users will understand the value of data, and will actually purchase more data."