Airtel is offering Facebook for free in 9 regional languages across India for free, via both the mobile browser and app. This isn’t the first time that Facebook and Airtel have tied up: back in July 2010, Airtel had offered Facebook mobile access for free to its users, shortly after doing a similar deal with Reliance Communications. The focus this time is on regional language access, though Airtel hasn’t specified how long the deal will be for: it’s a “limited period offer”, and with a cap of 30 MB/month, a limit many users will surpass.

Facebook is available in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, and the company had around 82 million monthly active accounts as of the end of Q2 2013.

MediaNama Take

1. While access to Facebook is being provided in multiple Indic languages, this hardly matters if users can’t post updates in those languages. Facebook has an indic language interface, but we wonder how many users will have an Indic language keyboard enabled on their handset. I have Swiftkey, and struggled to figure out switch the keyboard to Hindi after enabling it. Unless the entire user experience is in a regional language – from the mobile operating system interface to the keyboard, the website URL and the website itself, this initiative will be restricted to bilingual users.

2. For Facebook, this is akin to sleeping with the enemy: at this point in time, Airtel wants to accelerate growth of mobile Internet usage, to offset decline of mobile VAS and SMS revenues, so this is a win-win situation for both Facebook and Airtel. However, as Facebook grows, and data consumption increases, it will have to guard against the other side of being in a relationship with a telecom operator: Airtel has repeatedly called for over-the-top application services like Google and YouTube to pay for providing access, as has Vodafone.

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