Facebook buys Finnish sponsored mobile app usage startup Pryte

Facebook acquires Pryte, which could help build relationships with the carriers it needs to connect the next five billion people.

Facebook's European datacentre, in Luleå, Sweden
Facebook's European datacentre, in Luleå, Sweden. Image: Facebook

Facebook has acquired Pryte, a Finnish startup that aims to deliver cheaper internet access in growing economies by offering users time-capped access to particular apps.

The acquisition is the social network's latest move to find new users among the billions of people in developing countries with inadequate access to broadband and whose connectivity comes chiefly through their mobile phone.

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According to Reuters, which first reported the purchase, Pryte hasn't officially launched a product yet. However, a Facebook spokeswoman told the publication that the Helsinki-based company has experience and relationships with mobile operators in emerging markets.

Pryte's product offers consumers a way to buy small amounts of data tied to set apps rather than the current model of purchasing data packages based on a particular volume of data.

Operators can generate revenues from the apps by offering sponsored data plans — for example, Facebook might compensate operators for the data customers use up in visiting its social network.

The notice on Pryte's website announcing the deal states that the Pryte team, headed up CEO Markku Makelainen, will join Facebook's Internet.org initiative to deliver affordable internet access to underserved or non-connected areas.

Facebook announced Internet.org at Mobile World Congress this February  to tackle barriers to internet access in an effort to connect the next five billion internet users. 

The group was announced as analysts and press grappled with the logic of the company's eye-popping $19bn acquisition of messaging app WhatsApp .

Founding members of internet.org include Ericsson, Nokia, Opera, Samsung, Qualcomm, and MediaTek. Interestingly, Opera has a similar product to Pryte's called Web Pass , which is similarly aimed at emerging markets and allows operators to sell time-based internet access tied to a particular app.

The acquisition of Pryte follows its purchase of another small Finnish motion-tracking startup in April called ProtoGeo , which joined Facebook's other standalone apps, such as Instagram.

While no financial details of the deal have been disclosed, the Pryte acquisition is likely to be small in value. It comes as Google and Facebook explore novel ways to bring the internet to underserved parts of the world.

While Google is tipped to be spending $1bn to launch a constellation of 180 satellites , Facebook's connectivity labs are exploring drones , satellites, and lasers to deliver network access.   

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