Facebook & Windows Live Messenger come to non-smartphone users

Two new services providing access to Facebook and Windows Live Messenger to all phones users, even those without smartphones, have been announced, with the latter set to be implemented by Thai operator AIS.

When discussing internet penetration in Asia, mobile – and smartphone in particular – is key and critical part of internet access and usage. As I’ve blogged many times before, and mentioned recently on Quora, the culture of fixed line internet in the majority of homes doesn’t exist in many parts of Asia for a number of reasons, principally price, with mobile offering more accessible, flexible and cheaper access point to the web.

Yet aside from access to the internet and service increasing through the growth of smartphone ownership, thanks principally to Android’s entry level devices although Apple is rumoured to be planning a $200 iPhone, other innovation is opening the web to mainstream users in developing markets.

Mobile services firm Gemalto is one such example, with its latest innovation, “Facebook on a SIM”, showing great potential.

Details from The Register:

Gemalto has managed to get Facebook running on a SIM chip, making every GSM phone a Facebook phone and bringing social networking to the dumbest of handsets.

The SIM-based client isn’t as pretty as its smartphone contemporaries – don’t expect picture streams or sliding interfaces – but it was developed with the help of Facebook, and provides text-menu-based interaction with Facebook – including status updates, pokes and friend requests – to any GSM-compatible handset through the magic of the GSM SIM Toolkit and Class 2 SMS messages.

The project sounds much like the basic Facebook Zero site, also designed for developing markets, with great potential in Asia where Facebook is growing at a faster rate than anywhere else.

More from The Register:

it’s likely that Facebook on the SIM will have a big impact in developing markets where smartphones and ubiquitous data networks have yet to penetrate. That could include South America, where Google’s Orkut still dominates the social networking scene, or China, where QQ is where the cool kids hang out.

However, as the Register points out as yet there is no commercial deployment as yet so the potential remains theoretical.

However, Gemalto does have roll-outs and recently teamed up with Thailand’s largest operator AIS to offer Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger chat to AIS customers, including those with standard, non-smartphone devices.

From the press release:

Gemalto…in cooperation with AIS, Thailand’s largest mobile operator with more than 30 million customers, and Microsoft launches Asia’s first “Chat SIM,” the innovative SIM that enables customers to chat unlimitedly from every handset 24 hours a day 7 days a week even without a smart phone, computer or notebook, using Gemalto’s LinqUs SIMessenger solution.
Subscribers can instantly log on to their Windows Live Messenger application via an SMS menu, anytime, anywhere.
Clearly the service has much potential in Thailand and it is worth pointing out that Microsoft, Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger remain hugely popular in Thailand, and are used by many of the non-smartphone users demographic that AIS is looking to connect with.  While those AIS users without an account are likely to see the incentive of friends already using the service.

Though services like BlackBerry Messenger have grown hugely in popularity over the last 12/18 months, Windows Live remains popular with smartphone-owning Thais which gives the Gemalto-AIS potential for this demographic too.

Both of these initiatives show that internet and internet-communications access, though principally driven by smartphone adoption, will also aided by the introduction of services that provide access to those using more basic mobile phones.

Either way, both smartphone ownership growth and innovation like that of Gemalto is set to take mobile internet access to an increasing audience in Asia and other developing parts of the world.