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FB targets next billion Indians with local content and Express Wifi

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MUMBAI: Like Google, Facebook understands that in order to increase their market share of the digital ad pie, it is crucial to target the next billion users. And hence a strong strategy is needed for its India operations. The next billion users on the platform are what will drive its business, both in terms of scale of operation and revenues.

Facebook is committed to this endeavour, says its south Asia and India managing director Umang Bedi and has taken major steps to keep the platform right, real and relevant for its Indian users.

India has one of the highest percentages of people accessing Facebook via their mobile phones. Out of the 85 million active monthly users who access the platform from India, 81 million do it through their mobile devices. Nearly 95 per cent of the traffic Facebook gets from India is mobile. Needless to say, Fb has given special care to enhancing user experience in India on Facebook by making the platform functional even under slow internet.

“For us that is a welcome news. The wider the reach of internet, and mobile, the better we can connect businesses to their right audience,” shared Bedi.

The company's flagship project, and perhaps most controversial in the local market, Free Basics, was designed to address the issue of internet penetration in rural India , but failed to move opinion in its favour resulting in its ban by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) earlier this year due to its conflict with principles of net neutrality in the market.

“Since the government’s mandate, Facebook has ceased all operations of Free Basics and concentrated on other sectors instead,” Bedi gave a short response when quizzed about Free Basics in a recent interview.

To push forth FB’s internet.org initiative in India, the social media giant has instead launched what it calls ‘Express Wi-Fi’, which too promises to help connect rural India digitally.

“We have recently piloted Express WiFI that works with telecom operators, internet service providers, and local entrepreneurs to help expand connectivity to underserved locations around the world. We’re currently live in India, and are expanding to other regions soon,” Bedi shared.

While Bedi doesn’t clarify whether Express WiFi would also follow Free Basic’s principle of zero charges on data, its page on internet.org defines it as “ fast, affordable and reliable internet” hinting that the service will cost users some money, in-line with the TRAI directives.

Bedi shares that the biggest challenge Facebook faces in penetrating the further into the market is its relevance in India through local content. “Even the international mobile operators association GSMA recognises the single biggest issue of mobile and internet penetration in India is producing relevant local content for the right device in the right format,” shared Bedi. Making the platform available in 12 Indian languages is another step forward in the direction along with promoting content partnerships with several regional players.

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