Data cashback platform mCent has launched mCent Browser, an ad-sponsored mobile browser that provides free ‘unrestricted’ Internet usage to users. The browser is currently available for Android users in emerging markets like India and provides free data of 10 MB per day in an initial phase. Data freebies will be restricted to 70 MB per week.

Free data provided by mCent is subsided by advertising and the company added that as more advertisers join the platform, the free data benefit would be increased. The company, however, did not provide a timeline for this. When MediaNama inquired about mCent’s partnerships with telcos, a spokesperson told us that the app is “integrated into the backend billing systems of every major operator in India.”  mCent did not mention individual names of operators that it has partnered with in India.

How mCent’s ad-based model works

The company said that mCent browser was developed in a way that “advertisers are able to incorporate their marketing into mCent Browser without fracturing the consumer experience.” The idea is to integrate an advertiser’s brand information into the browser experience while allowing users to browse the Internet without any restrictions on usage. However, it is not clear whether native ads deployed within the mCent browser are injected using HTML codes, replacing original ads on websites. MediaNama has written to mCent for more details.

A spokesperson for mCent told MediaNama that “the browser will have native advertising capabilities that will be built into the browser itself rather than the websites. We will have everything from banner ads to interstitials to video ads that are integrated into the browser experience.”

Funding and ad partners

Note that mCent platform is a subsidiary company of Jana, a firm which provides mobile advertising solutions. In February last year, Jana raised $57 million is a Series C round from investors including Verizon Ventures, Spark Capital, and Publicis Groupe. Currently, Jana claims to have more than 30 million users on it cashback platform mCent. The company also claims to have partnered with more than 3000 brands like Amazon, Saavn, Twitter, and WeChat, and more than 300 mobile carriers worldwide for its free data cashback platform.

Other free data models and TRAI’s recommendations

Apart from a sponsored data model, there are several methods/models currently being discussed (or have been discussed earlier) in India by the telecom regulator TRAI for providing free data to users. TRAI recently issued recommendations, giving the green signal for apps like mCent and Gigato which allows its partner companies to refund users for data consumed on their apps, by giving free mobile recharges. The recommendation also mentioned a government subsidised free data model wherein data is sponsored by third party aggregators. More on this here.

In India, Facebook’s launch of its net neutrality-violating Internet.org platform triggered a debate around net neutrality and how it could be applicable in the Indian context. The TRAI then went on to ban zero-rating practices last year when it ruled that “”no service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content.” The regulator has also put out a crucial consultation paper in January, which discussed various issues of Net Neutrality including traffic management, throttling of speeds, and preferential treatment of content and apps and how these principles are applicable within the Indian context.

Image Credit: Flickr user Johan Larsson under CC BY 2.0