IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Facebook wireless deal could make messenger service cheaper than texting

Facebook illustration
NBC News

Facebook has sweet-talked 18 cellphone operators in 14 countries to get discounted or free data for Facebookers who text and chat on Facebook's Messenger app.

When the details are ironed out and the deal kicks in, messaging via Facebook’s messenger service may turn out to be cheaper than texting in some countries. The feature will work on the Messenger app for Android or iPhone and the Every Phone service for basic phones.

While Facebook doesn't mention this in its announcement of the deal, The Atlantic brings up the possibility that the feature may make calling cheaper too.

That's an intriguing possibility. Facebook does have a calling service tucked within the Messenger app. But for now, this feature is limited to the Messenger app on iPhones. And, it's only available in the US and Canada--two countries that are absent from the Facebook's list of new mobile operator partners.

If the calling feature did roll out to non-iPhone phones globally, it could make Facebook an attractive mobile tool. In places like India, for example, mobile users go to elaborate lengths to avoid paying call fees on their cell phone, spawning a convoluted but surprisingly functional "missed call ecosystem." It's reasonable to assume that any free mobile service that carried a free (or discounted) calling feature tucked in could become a popular one among mobile phone owners.

Of course, this would depend on what price the "discounted" data plans were fixed at, and if, if ever, Facebook took its voice calling global. If we got that far, would mobile operators be willing to let Facebook up their data-based calling feature and let it benefit from a discounted data scheme? A Facebook spokesperson told NBC News Digital that "the length of the free/discounted data [would be established] at the discretion of the mobile operator." As to the nitty-gritty of the deals, they have no other details to share, so we'll just to wait and see. In the meanwhile, here are the operators involved:

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

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and technology. Follow on Twitter, Google+.