Eurobites: Facebook Expands Internet.org in Africa

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: French spectrum auction bids reach €2.7 billion; Cellcom profits plunge; Vodafone Wallet teams up with MasterCard.

  • Facebook is partnering with India's Bharti Airtel to bring new services to 17 African countries as part of its controversial Internet.org program, which offers free access to a stripped-down version of the Internet. Called "Free Basic Services," the program will provide access to basic websites related to services such as healthcare and employment at no additional cost to their mobile connection. In its first phase, Free Basic Services will be launched in Nigeria, DRC, Gabon and Niger, and it is anticipated that all 17 markets will be covered by March 2016. Already available in a number of emerging markets, including several African countries and India, the Internet.org concept has come in for criticism, with some arguing that it runs against the principles of net neutrality by favoring services offered by Facebook and its partners. (See Facebook's Zuckerberg Defends Internet.org and Facebook Targets India's Hinterland .)

  • France's auction of 700MHz spectrum has notched up bids totaling €2.7 billion ($2.9 billion) to date, reports Reuters. Seven rounds of the auction have so far been completed, with the eighth due today (Tuesday). Orange (NYSE: FTE), Numericable-SFR , Iliad (Euronext: ILD) and Bouygues Telecom are all competing for their slice of the 4G action. (See Eurobites: French 700MHz Auction Kicks Off and Altice's Bouygues Bid Creates 700MHz Confusion.)

  • Mobile TeleSystems OJSC (MTS) (NYSE: MBT), the largest of Russia's big three mobile operators, has raised full-year sales guidance after reporting a healthy year-on-year increase in revenues between July and September, thanks to continuing take-up of mobile data services. The company now expects revenues to grow by 4% this year, up from an earlier forecast of 2%. Despite economic and political difficulties in its two largest markets of Russia and Ukraine, MTS was able to flag a 7.4% rise in Group revenues in its third quarter, to 115 billion Russian rubles ($1.75 billion), compared with the year-earlier period. Its net profit, however, fell by 6.6%, to RUB14.4 billion ($220 million) -- a drop that MTS blamed on "new commercial policies in retail." The operator is reported to have cut the prices of smartphones in response to the slowdown in the Russian economy.

  • French equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) revealed that it had joined ONOS , an open-source SDN project that has attracted criticism from some supporters of the alternative OpenDaylight project as "just a Huawei vehicle." By default, Alcatel-Lucent's membership will suck Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) into ONOS, with the Finnish vendor set to complete a €15.6 billion ($16.6 billion) takeover of Alcatel-Lucent early next year, and help ONOS to address those critics. "For sure Huawei is a contributor but so is Ciena and Fujitsu and AT&T and SK Telecom and many others," said Guru Parulkar, an executive director at ON.Lab , which has been developing ONOS, when told of the OpenDaylight accusations by Light Reading last month. (See Mud-Slinging at the SDN Corral and Nokia Makes €15.6B Bid for Alcatel-Lucent.)

  • Israel's Cellcom Inc. has posted third-quarter profits down 62% year-on-year to 40 million shekels ($10 million), reports Reuters, its numbers dented by fierce competition from six new entrants to the market. Cellcom has just made a bid for Golan Telecom, a smaller, low-cost rival.

  • Users of the Vodafone Wallet mobile payment service will be able to pay for goods and services contactlessly within a matter of weeks using a MasterCard in Germany, Spain, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and Hungary. Users activate the service by inputting their MasterCard number into the Vodafone Wallet. The service is supported on more than 60 Android smartphones.

  • Telecom Italia Sparkle has established a new point of presence (PoP) in Tbilisi, Georgia, in partnership with Silknet (a local ISP) and network provider Turkcell Superonline.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

  • iainmorris 11/17/2015 | 12:42:38 PM
    Operator skepticism Some big service providers are clearly prepared to work with Facebook on the rollout of these offers but there's obviously still some skepticism about giving away data services for free - especially when the Internet player behind the project offers Internet messaging and telephony applications. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact these tie-ups have on operator performance metrics.  
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