In Indonesia, mobile network operator Telekomsel has launched Google Free Zone, a Google offering that enables customers to use certain Google services free of charge. Subscribers will be able to access Gmail, Google+ and Google Web search from Internet-capable phones, even if those users don’t subscribe to data plans. Accessing the full results of Google Web searches, however, will count against data allotments. Google Free Zone, which has already been implemented in the Philippines and South Africa, is clearly aimed at the hundreds of millions of new data users coming on line in emerging markets.
This is clearly a very good way for Google to get its claws into high growth regions where smartphone use is expected to grow exponentially, as will the data consumption that comes with such phones. But it is also a good deal for operators like Telekomsel, as it will likely provide an effective way in which to get users acclimated to accessing the internet via mobile devices, and to mobile data usage in general. Google Free Zone works even on less-sophisticated “feature phones” that are more prevalent in emerging markets. The program is starting to gain traction, having now been launched in three countries. We believe it is a smart move for operators to partner with Google, and an excellent way for both parties to cultivate the next giant cohort of data users. We expect other operators in emerging markets to follow suit.