Mobile solutions provider U2opia Mobile has launched Facebook access via USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) on its Fonetwish platform with Airtel. The USSD service lets users of the social networking platform access and use some features on their mobile phones, without using native or web apps, mobile data or SMS (screenshots below). The service has been jointly developed with Facebook and is the first such offering, globally. The service can be accessed by dialing *325# and will be offered at a daily charge of Re.1, granting unlimited usage. It will allow Facebook users to update status messages, post on friends’ wall, view, comment-on and like news-feeds, find and add friends, confirm friend requests and get notifications.

U2opia Mobile Co-Founder and CEO, Sumesh Menon told MediaNama that the company is in talks with other tier-1 Indian operators, as well as with some International operators to deploy the service. Since, the service does not involve SMS, there are no additional charges except the daily fee.

How It Works

After dialing *325#, the menu prompts users to enter their Facebook username and password and asks if they wish to add the number to their Facebook account. After the one-time registration, a text menu is displayed, which is essentially based on numerical inputs for browsing through content.

USSD? We thought it was no more.

Although, USSD is a menu-based system that enables interfacing with content based services to pull content to the phone natively, using network infrastructure, and stays connected with the network till a particular session lasts, there are some caveats. The service supports upto 182 characters, which means that users will not be able to post longer messages and updates. Also, the interface is entirely textual and relies a lot on alphanumerical inputs for navigation.

We wonder why in the age of mobile internet, telcos and web service companies are introducing services through old-world channels. Doesn’t this affect usability of the service and limit functionality in a major way? For example, Facebook is all about multimedia; sharing videos, and photos. Why reduce it to a text-only experience? Even Twitter apps are focussing more and more on multimedia integration, with nifty URL shorteners and cloud based image services. Also, Facebook recently acquired Snaptu, in order to make Java apps for feature phones. It tied up with operators to offer free mobile internet when using the app. Then why go back to where we’ve come from?

Location Integration?

Since, USSD allows direct network integration, it is easier to leverage location data. We asked Menon if the company has plans to make use of this ability and deploy it to offer Facebook Places and the ability to check-into places through USSD. He responded that it is possible technically, however, the company is not offering this feature for the time being.