AirtelBharti Airtel has partnered with Google to launch Free Zone service that will offer Airtel subscribers with free access to Google services such as Google Search, feature phone friendly version of Gmail and Google Plus.

Why free access only for Google products? This is a funny one. Airtel also states that the first page of a website linked from search results is provided at no data cost. The first link from the Google search result is an ad, which will be a revenue stream for Google. While this partnership will allow users to use more data on Airtel, Google on the other hand also seems to be making money out it. The financial details or revenue sharing model between the two companies have not been disclosed. This is not the first time Airtel has partnered with services to increase data usage, however, its partnership with Google only seems to be the one to even bring revenues along with increase in data usage.

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Airtel users can start using the service  by visiting www.airtel.in/freezone or just accessing the Internet without having to sign in to the service. It also allows users to directly signup to Google’s Gmail service or use their existing account. If one leaves the Free Zone to navigate deeper into a website or download an attachment, Airtel claims that it informs them about the data charges and provide an option to purchase data package.

Previously, Airtel had partnered with Facebook to offer a free access to Facebook’s mobile site for all its users, for 2 months. In October 2011, Airtel had partnered with Twitter to offer free access to twitter from mobile.twitter.com to Airtel customers until 1st March 2012.

Remember that Airtel reported increase in data usage in the Q4 FY13 quarter. Airtel’s data segment’s revenue contribution to total revenues increased to 6.5% from 5.7% last quarter, as opposed to revenue contribution from VAS and Messaging, which had declined to 9.1% from 9.9%. Airtel also reported that data ARPU increased by 16.58% up at Rs 55 per data user, from Rs 47 per data user. It is  pretty clear that users are eventually moving away from VAS and SMS packs to data packs. That said, it appears that Airtel seems to be  driving more data usage on its network. It recently slashed its 2G data rates by 90% for all its prepaid customers in Punjab and Haryana. It also reduced its 4G data tariff and introduced new 4G plans starting from Rs 450.

However, Airtel is not the only operator in the country to offer discounts to drive data usage. In May 2013, Tata DOCOMO had partnered with the online music streaming service Saavn to launch music-oriented data plans to its 2G and 3G prepaid GSM subscribers. Hungama’s ArtistAloud.com has partnered with Vodafone, Uninor and MTS to allow them offer its service to their respective subscribers.

In May 2010, Reliance Communications had tied up with Facebook to offer free mobile browsing on 0.facebook.com, a light-weight mobile version of the social networking website. Reliance Communications had launched a prepaid plan ‘WhatsApp Plan’ that offered unlimited usage of WhatsApp across the country for Rs. 16/month. Recently, Idea Cellular partnered with Facebook to offer Facebook messenger for free for three months to Idea subscribers.

The idea here appears to be that telcos are promoting data based services to its subscribers so that it can drive large data usage. Currently, revenue from VAS and SMS seems to decreasing and data is only slowly picking up.