Google SA partners with 8ta to launch free Internet initiative

Search engine giant Google has, in conjunction with South African telcos 8ta, today announced the Free Zone initiative expected to give people access to mobile Web search and feature-phone-friendly versions of Gmail and Google+ with zero data charges.

The service also provides the first page of a website linked from search results at no data cost. The aim, according to Google, is to allow more people access to the Internet.

While speaking at the G-South Africa 2012 conference in Cape Town during the launch of the service, country manager of Google South Africa Luke Mckend said: “Given that data can be expensive for many South Africans, the open web is only as open as it is affordable. Working with 8ta on this exciting trial means that we can offer Internet services at no cost to anyone with a phone.

“This gives people easier access to information in a way that benefits everyone, whether it’s an individual or a small business that wants to reach more people on the Web.”

Data can be costly, especially in South Africa, meaning that data costs can prove to be a hindrance to first time Internet-enabled phone users who want to access the Net.

Using Free Zone, feature phone users can use the power of the Web to grow their businesses or keep in touch with friends and family without the fear of unknown data costs.

Amith Maharaj, 8ta Senior Managing Executive, said: “Breaking down the barriers to Internet adoption is critical for South Africa to keep up with the rest of world in terms of social and economic development.

He added that it is through key initiatives like these that these barriers can be reduced.

To enable such benefits for our consumers requires flexible and cutting edge technology and billing systems.

“We are really proud to bring this particular innovation to South Africans. Effectively it means that all South Africans can have access to Google Search, Google email and Google social networking by simply using any 8ta SIM card on any data enabled handset, no matter how old, free of charge. This is a big deal,” he said.

The following services are available for free from mobile phone browsers through Free Zone powered by Google:

-Gmail: Users have unlimited access to Gmail from their mobile browser.  If users click on a link or attachment within the email they are directed to a page where they can purchase a data package.

-Google+: Users can share photos and messages with circles of family, selected friends or the public; follow updates on the things they are passionate about – from football to photography, music to news; and follow people they’re interested in.

-Google Search: Users can search the entire Internet and access the first page of websites from the results for free. If they click further into a website after that, they are directed to a page where they can purchase a data package.

The service is available immediately to all 8ta subscribers from their mobile phones at Freezone.google.com. Users without a Gmail account can sign up for free.  

When users leave the Free Zone to navigate deeper into a website or download an attachment, they are informed about the data charges and given the option to purchase an appropriate data package. The service will be piloted until May 31, 2013.  

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