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Updated: Facebook Starts Offering Free Talktime With New Mobile Sign-Ups In India

Update:  While we are still awaiting a response from Facebook India, Facebook has confirmed the roll out of this ‘test initiative’ to TechCrunch. In a statement to the publication, it said:

‘We partner with a number of telecoms companies around the world, many of whom offer incentives for their customers to use Facebook, such as zero rating mobile internet access to the service. This test is another such initiative’.

There is however still no word on how the partnership works or the operators involved in this initiative.

Earlier (Oct 17): It looks like Facebook has started offering free talktime for new registrations and referrals through its mobile site in India, reports MachineHappy. The report states that the company is currently offering Rs 50 for every new registration and Rs 50 for every referral the user brings in to the portal. We have contacted Facebook regarding this development and will update the post as we hear from them.

Registration: As indicated by the report, the free talktime offer is available through a dedicated link – m.facebook.com/tt. It’s worth noting that the offer is primarily for new registrations and is not available for existing users.

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The registration process itself is pretty simple and one can sign up by providing only their phone number and phone number of the person who invited you (if any), followed by requisite personal details like Name, Gender, and Birthday among others. The company states that the user will receive free talktime within three days of registering and confirming a code sent to their mobile number.

When we tried registering the service with an existing phone number, the registration page displayed an error message saying that the phone number already belongs to someone on Facebook, however when we tried registering the service with a new phone number, we were able to create a Facebook account, although we didn’t receive any free talktime at the time of writing this article. There is currently no word on which telecom operators Facebook has partnered with, to offer this service in the country.

Why is Facebook offering this? Well, the primary objective seems to increase its user base in India. Considering that India is a primarily a prepaid market, it seems like Facebook is now targeting Indian citizens who have not registered on their portal by offering free talktime as a carrot. However, we wonder if this initiative will lead to a significant increase in fake or inactive accounts on the portal. Facebook might be incentivizing new users to register via mobile as it will also have more data per user.

That being said, Facebook has introduced quite a few initiatives to increase its user base in the past few years. It had partnered with telecom operator Airtel and Mobile solutions provider U2opia Mobile to offer USSD based Facebook access to Airtel subscribers in May 2011. Facebook had also tied up with Airtel to offer Airtel subscribers free access to its mobile site for two months. Facebook had also partnered with Aircel to allow Aircel subscribers update their Facebook status by recording a voice message.

It had also launched a light-weight mobile version called ‘Facebook Zero‘ and had partnered with Reliance Communications and Videocon to offer free data access to their respective subscribers.

Facebook Users in India: During its Q2 2012 earnings, Facebook had stated in its quarterly report that India has been one of the key sources of growth in its user base during the quarter. It had 59 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) in India as of June 30, 2012, a 15.7% increase from 51 million MAUs in March 31, 2012 and a 84% increase from the same period last year. Prior to this, Emily White, Facebook’s Director of Mobile Partnerships, had claimed that 30% of new registrations from India were through mobile phones and 30% of its Indian users access the service only through mobile phones.

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