Gemalto, a Dutch digital security company, has announced Facebook for SIM at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The company's software development team has effectively shrunk Facebook down so that it fits onto a standard SIM card, enabling anyone with a GSM phone to enjoy the service even if without a data plan. In fact, the company is claiming the Facebook application is compatible with 100 percent of SIM-compliant mobile phones. As a result, it works on prepaid as well as on subscription-based mobile plans.
In doing so, Gemalto is offering Facebook to millions of mobile phone users regardless of their handset type. Facebook for SIM doesn't require a data connection because it taps into a handset's SMS connectivity to allow the user to interact with the service; users can sign up for Facebook, log in directly, and even check out friend requests, status updates, wall posts, and messages, all via the dedicated SIM application.
The app uses Class 2 SMS to ensure compatibility with the most basic handsets and networks. Class 2 SMS messages are delivered direct to the SIM without the user being involved, and then the application running on the SIM can tell the handset to alert the user.
Gemalto did not reveal any release details, but emerging markets where data plans are ridiculously expensive, or simply not available, is likely the target audience. We do know, however, that Gemalto plans to offer Facebook for SIM on a limited free trial period and will then have it operate on a subscription model. Whether the user has to pay for the resulting Class 2 SMS messages is unclear at this point, but if so, this would be a large obstacle the company has to overcome in order to spur adoption. Still, access to the world's most popular social network, wherever you are and without an Internet connection, could prove very appealing. I think protesters in Egypt would agree.
"Increasingly people want to be able to stay connected and communicate with their friends on Facebook anytime, anywhere," Henri Moissinac, Head of Mobile Business at Facebook, said in a statement. "Gemalto has developed a creative solution in Facebook for SIM that enables people without mobile data plans to stay connected to their friends on Facebook in an affordable way."
I poked Facebook to find out if the social networking giant had anything to do with the project. The above statement seems to imply that Gemalto pulled off the feat single-handedly, but that is not so:
"We worked closely with Gemalto on their Facebook for SIM product and believe it will be another easy and affordable way for people to stay connected through Facebook on the mobile phone of their choice," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "Facebook for SIM creatively combines technologies from some of our existing mobile solutions that especially are attractive for people with feature phones and have limited or no data plans with a mobile operator. Through the Facebook application on the SIM card people can: Update their status and view comments on it; write on their friends wall; receive notifications; find friends on their SIM phonebook."