Indian vendor taps USSD to provide Facebook access

U2opia Mobile has turned to Unstructured Supplementary Service Data to provide a way for users with basic mobile devices to access Facebook, even when the phones have no data connection. But there are limitations.

U2opia Mobile has turned to an existing GSM protocol, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), and finetuned it to allow anyone with the most basic of mobile phone to connect to Facebook.

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USSD is a service used by telecom operators to connect mobile phones to their servers and carry out various functions. For example, they can check  the balance on a prepaid mobile connection by sending a USSD code, according to a report by The Times of India

In India, tapping USSD service to connect to Facebook is available via all Indian mobile operators, except BSNL. To access the social networking platform from a basic mobile phone, or even a smartphone with no connection, you need to first subscribe to the service by sending the code *325# from your device. The service will be activated within a few minutes, allowing users to check their Facebook timeline, post updates, check Likes or add comments, simply by using the USSD menu.

Furthermore, it allows subscribers to use Facebook Messenger and exchange messages between friends. This service is currently used by over 40 telecom operators in 30 countries, and there is no limit to how many times you can access Facebook or send messages between friends.

Different operators have different rates, but it typically costs only 1 rupee (about 2 US cents) to access Facebook using USSD, making it a cost-effective way to stay connected.

So what's the catch? Well, USSD has its limitations. Accessing Facebook this way is delivered by a completely text-based service. For techies, it's analogous to using Linux in a GUI environment versus command line, where USSD is command line. You can't view pictures, videos, or other graphics. Furthermore, each action requires sending a code or selecting a number from the menu. This may not be appealing to those who are used to the conventional way of using Facebook, though, using USSD in this case is meant primarily for those who have basic phones or don't have a data connection.

With affordable handsets available across India that can support Facebook, what then would be the appeal of creating a USSD version? Well, there are still those in India who unfortunately cannot afford devices with a data connection, and for these folks, this service would be a way to finally be active on Facebook.

Furthermore, not all areas and regions across India have high speed data connections, so USSD will offer another way for even smartphone users to access the social networking site.