Facebook targets India

5 March 2013

BANGALORE: Facebook, the social network, has teamed up with two of India's leading mobile operators as it seeks to attract new users to its Facebook Messenger service.

A partnership with Airtel and Reliance Communications will offer access to their combined 300m subscribers, making it possible for them to chat for free, within their data usage constraints, rather than paying for text messages.

"We are reengineering ourselves into a mobile company," said Kevin D'Souza, country growth manager for Facebook India, adding that "We have made significant strides from when we first started working on the platform."

Initial reaction was mixed. "The thing about Facebook is that users predominantly identify it as a social network, and not as messaging service," Vikas Saxena, chief executive officer at Nimbuzz, a free call and messaging app, told The Economic Times.

As a result, he didn't believe that Facebook Messenger constituted a threat to businesses like his own.

Others were less sure. "Facebook has been trying desperately to get into the mobile space, so it makes sense that they have tied up with operators having a large customer base," said Jayanth Kolla, partner at Convergence Catalyst, a market research firm.

At the end of 2012, Facebook had 71m daily active users in India. The country also has 860m mobile subscribers, a growing number of whom have smartphones, so the potential for growth is clear.

Rajan S. Mathews, director-general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, said the deals were a win-win situation for all the businesses involved "because Facebook needs to expand its presence while operators need to identify themselves with appropriate content and brands."

Data sourced from The Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff