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Will Facebook threaten telecom operators?

With more than 200 million users on the mobile, Facebook is rapidly turning into an alternative platform of communication.

In 2006, when Facebook embraced the mobile highway with the launch of Facebook Mobile, its users viewed it as just another new initiative of the social networking site. But now, with over 200 million users, Facebook is a force to be reckoned with in the mobile space.
In a new report, the independent London-based telecom analyst Ovum states that Facebook is much more than a social network and is better viewed as an increasingly rich platform for communications and content. Ovum’s principal analyst Eden Zoller says that though telecom operators tend to view it as a partner, Facebook’s ambitions to be the main platform of communication of any kind could conflict with their interest. In some countries, for example, the volume of text has been hit because of Facebook’s rising popularity.
Facebook has made several moves to improve user experience since it entered the mobile domain. It will soon integrate Skype for voice communications, and in November 2010 unveiled an email service that provides (@facebook.com) email addresses.
Meanwhile, Facebook Places is increasingly focused on location-based services, and the company’s Deals check-in service is making inroads in mobile advertising. Facebook applications dominate stores across most smartphone operating systems.
There was speculation that Facebook would design its own phone, but these rumours were killed by the chief executive officer of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. The company seems to have decided instead on collaboration with handset manufacturers so they can integrate the social networking site better into their phones. That may be a faster way to grow. Ovum’s Zoller feels that the move would in effect make Facebook a social operating system.
Facebook has become a critical part of many people’s lives. Every day, millions of people post what is happening in their lives in the form of status updates.
Facebook Mobile, meanwhile, is continuously working to improve communication among people in various ways:
Facebook on handsets
Facebook believes that the mobile space is vital to its future and to meet user expectation. The company provides the necessary software to handset manufacturers who want to integrate Facebook on their operating systems.
HTC recently launched two phones called ChaCha and Salsa that have dedicated Facebook buttons, which means that users can access the social networking site with just one touch.
Besides, mobile users in India can find dedicated Facebook buttons on most of the low cost handsets such as Samsung’s Guru phones and Micromax’s Q5FB and Bling.
Facebook through operators
If your phone does not have a Facebook button, you can nevertheless access the site via SMS, MMS, a mobile web browser or even IVR (interactive voice response).
You can do a lot of basic things through SMS such as looking up profile information of people on your friend list, sending personal messages, posting on people’s walls, and adding friends to your network e but users have to keep in mind that an SMS message cannot be more than 160 characters long.
The MMS standard is an enhancement over the SMS feature — with no limit to message size. It allows you to send not only text, but also sound files, video and images.
For using Facebook through SMS and MMS, service providers usually charge premium rates of about Rs 3 per message, but of late some service providers such as Aircel are offering unlimited SMS for Facebook users at Rs 5 a week.
If your handset supports web browsing capabilities you can also experience Facebook through it. You’ll need to open your phone’s browser and type m.facebook.com to reach Facebook’s mobile-friendly portal.
In its web version Facebook has even taken care of subscribers who have a limited mobile plan by offering a stripped-down version of its site. m.facebook.com is a text-only version that enables people to view news feeds, comment on posts and send messages, though it does not allow users to view or post photos and videos.
For using Facebook on the mobile internet, users are charged standard wireless data fees – usually 10 paise for 10 of data, or if the user has opted for a particular data plan he will be billed according to that.
Recently, a new feature has been launched by independent players and telecom operators using which you can post Facebook status updates in your voice via IVR. To do this you need to dial a number assigned by your service provider and record a voice message, which will then appear instantly on Facebook as your status message. Since you don’t need an internet connection to do this, the service can be availed even with a basic mobile phone at standard call rates.
Facebook app
Facebook recently launched an app for feature phones which works on more than 2,500 devices from Nokia, Sony Ericsson, LG and other marketers. The new application has been built in close cooperation with Snaptu, which is a free mobile application platform that runs on virtually every type of internet-enabled mobile phone. The app provides a better Facebook experience for its most popular features, including an easier-to-navigate home screen, contact synchronization, and fast scrolling of photos and friend updates.
From the Indian perspective, operators such as Airtel and Reliance don’t charge for data use when you use the Facebook app, which can be downloaded from m.fb.snaptu.com/f. However, some mobile users in India will have to wait until their operator provides this service.

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