Facebook, 18 Carriers Partner To Use Discounted Messages To Lure New Users, Data Customers

Facebook is deepening its relationships with carriers in emerging markets today with a deal that would bring free or discounted data access for people who use Facebook Messages.

The company has done these types of win-win deals in the past. Carriers get to give their customers access to what is probably the most widely-used app in the world, gaining an edge over competitors in the same market. They also potentially lure new customers to sign up for lucrative data plans. At the same time, Facebook gains further reach into many developing countries that have mobile-only consumers, who don’t have access to the desktop web.

The operators in the deal include TMN in Portugal, Three in Ireland, Airtel and Reliance in India, Vivacom in Bulgaria, Backcell in Azerbaijan, Indosat, Smartfren, AXIS and XL Axiata in Indonesia, SMART in Philippines, DiGi in Malaysia, DTAC in Thailand, Viva in Bahrain, STC in Saudi Arabia, Oi in Brazil, Etisalat in Egypt, and Tre in Italy.

Facebook has done similar deals in the past. After it acquired Israeli-startup Snaptu to build mobile versions of Facebook for the long tail of feature phones, it partnered with more than 20 carriers to give their customers more than 90 days of free access to the new Facebook for Every Phone app.

While most of the carriers in the deal are in emerging markets, not all of them are. A few carriers in Ireland, Italy and Portugal are also involved.

Keep in mind that Facebook Messenger’s rival WhatsApp rules in Europe, as many cellphone users turn to it instead of classic SMS messaging to save on their monthly bills. WhatsApp beats Facebook Messenger in market share in many European countries. This could be a small way to get a leg up on their competitor, which is based in Silicon Valley and is backed by Sequoia Capital.