India’s Facebook Penetration Is Actually Good — But Mobile is More Exciting

[Editor’s Note: Facebook’s growth and traffic stats in India are excerpted from Inside Facebook Gold, our membership service tracking Facebook’s business and growth around the world. Click here to learn more about our complete data and analysis offering.]

We estimate Facebook’s country market penetration monthly as part of the Facebook Global Monitor report. Typically, market penetration figures are determined by the percentage of the population that’s on Facebook. For most of the developed world, this metric provides a good view into Facebook’s popularity. But what about poorer countries, where many people lack internet connections? Measuring Facebook’s popularity, in these countries, quickly becomes complicated.

It’s more than a merely academic question. On Monday, we reported that Facebook’s new office in Hyderabad, India will hire up to 500 people. The office will serve as a global sales and operations node — but it also seems likely that Facebook has some confidence that India’s penetration levels will rise, providing a viable market for the company. So today, we’re taking a closer look at India’s present, as well as its possible future.

At first glance, Facebook appears to be a failure in India, which is well known as one of the two bastions of Google’s Orkut. Out of a total population of 1.14 billion people, India has only 9.5 million Facebook users — a market penetration rate of only 0.8 percent.

The story changes when we begin looking at India’s much smaller internet population, for which we’ll use the World Bank estimate of 51.7 million. Here’s how India’s growth on Facebook looks over the year when using that number:

Other estimates of India’s internet population vary — a more recent measurement by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) puts it at 71 million — but any measurement we could use shows a penetration of at least 10 percent, growing fairly quickly. This is especially impressive considering that most data connections in India are not broadband.

India’s internet penetration will rise over time, and it’s likely that a significant number of its citizens could be internet-connected within a few years. However, an even more interesting consideration is the growth of the mobile web.

While wireline connections are few and far between ( a fact that also reveals part of the problem in connecting more Indians to the internet) wireless phone ownership has grown by leaps and bounds. India added 16 million wireless users in May alone, according to government statistics, which count 617.5 million wireless users as of June, over 50 percent of the population.

The problem is that few of these wireless connections are being used for data; another IAMAI study, from January, showed that only two million users make significant use of their mobile internet connections. However, as you can see on the IAMAI chart at right, the younger generations — those most likely to be using Facebook — are the heaviest mobile data users. Yet another study predicts 260 million mobile internet subscribers in India by the end of 2015.

For Facebook, these various statistics won’t add up unless the social network can easily connect with users, load data and, most importantly, serve ads. That’s where Facebook Zero comes in: a stripped-down version of the site that some have suggested could become Africa’s Agora. India’s population being larger than that of the entire continent of Africa, it’s not unreasonable to consider that the country is more important to Facebook.

Much of this could take place without anyone realizing — Facebook currently offers no public accounting of how many users access it through mobile connections. What is clear, however, is that mobile is Facebook’s market of the future, at least for countries like India.

We’ll be publishing Facebook’s latest global traffic growth data tracking the site’s growth in markets around the world, including India, in the July edition of the Facebook Global Monitor report. The Global Monitor is available as part of a membership to Inside Facebook Gold. To learn more or join, please visit gold.insidenetwork.com/facebook

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