Mark Zuckerberg Focuses on Carriers, Not Balloons, at Mobile World Congress

By David Cohen Comment

MobileWorldCongressBannerFacebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg let a little of the air out of Google’s Project Loon balloons during a session at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Monday.

Speaking about both Project Loon, Google’s initiative to provide Internet access via balloons traveling high in the stratosphere, as well as Facebook’s own efforts to accomplish the same goals with drones via its Facebook Connectivity Lab, Zuckerberg said, as reported by CNET:

People like talking about that stuff because it’s sexy. That’s at the fringe of the real work that’s going on. 90 percent of the people in the world already live within range of the network.

Zuckerberg had some praise for Google, as well, as TechCrunch reported that when he was asked about the possibility of Facebook-spearheaded initiative Internet.org working with Project Loon, he said:

Sure. When we launched the Internet.org application in Zambia with our operator partner there … one of the apps we launched with was Google search, because search is an important product and piece of functionality people around the world want. I would love to do more with them, and (Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai) talked about their apps being more in partnership with Internet.org.

Zuckerberg shared some statistics related to Internet.org during his session, as well. According to a Facebook Newsroom post:

  • Nearly 7 million people used mobile data for the first time during this past year as a result of Internet.org and its partnerships.
  • The rate of acquisition for mobile carriers in countries where the Internet.org app has been launched rose by at least 40 percent.
  • Tigo has seen its data subscribers in Colombia rise by 50 percent since the launch of the Internet.org app in that country, while in Tanzania, Tigo reported that monthly smartphone sales rose tenfold since the app’s launch there.
  • In Zambia, Kenya and Ghana, Airtel saw the number of people using data and data usage increase, and both voice and SMS activity grew across Africa.

Other topics Zuckerberg touched upon in Barcelona Monday included:

Protecting mobile carriers’ revenue, as reported by CNET:

The feedback from partners is that not only do more people start adopting data, but people use more voice and SMS and pay for that even more. We’ve seen a lot of cases where ARPU (average revenue per user) goes up. Even in countries like Colombia, where one-half of the people are already on the Internet, there’s massive upside.

Going forward the face of Internet.org needs to be the companies doing the work, laying the fiber in the ground, building the infrastructure that’s actually connecting people in the world.

More on mobile operators, via CNBC:

We are different from operators. We are trying to help people connect with other people. It’s really important to not lose sight of the fact that the ones that are driving this are the operators.

These apps drive data usage. People want to use these different services, so I think people are going to pay, but I think it is: What specific things do you charge for? I think over time it will be data and other services.

On delivering Internet access via drones and satellites, Zuckerberg said, as reported by Mashable:

We’re working on it. When we have that stuff, the goal is to form the same type of partnerships we have today with our partners to give people more tools to connect. Some of the technology we have today isn’t cost-effective … just because we’re working on planes and satellites, that doesn’t mean that this is the type of stuff that will do it. Over the next five to 10 years, there will be a lot of innovation.

Readers: What did you think of Zuckerberg’s comments at Mobile World Congress?

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