Facebook launches Express Wi-Fi Android app to get more people online
Despite some weak patches, it’s pretty much a given that throughout the UK your mobile data will see you right. We’re lucky: that’s not an assumption you can make all over the world. In some places signal is weak, in others, it’s prohibitively expensive. In an unfortunate but common double whammy, in many places, it’s both.
Facebook’s answer to that is to get more people to share Wi-Fi, and its Express Wi-Fi scheme is designed to facilitate this. In short, businesses can charge users to piggyback off their Wi-Fi in exchange for a small fee – considerably more modest than the big local telecom firms charge, in any case.
Express Wi-Fi began in India last year, but it needed users to connect to a mobile website or download an app from their telecom to fiddle with their settings. Now it’s available in the form of a Google Play Android app which can be downloaded in both Indonesia and Kenya and provides a handy map to show nearby Wi-Fi zones.
Unlike Facebook’s Free Basics app – which did a similar thing, but limited web access to just Facebook and a handful of other services – Express Wi-Fi is limitless, within reason. So while firms will likely have their own policies in place, most web activities – streaming video, downloading music and so on – are fair game.
This is a pretty noble ambition – getting more people in the world online is something that Tim Berners-Lee highlighted as highly important in an open letter marking the 29th birthday of the World Wide Web earlier this week. But what’s in it for Facebook? Well, having pretty much saturated Europe and North America in its difficult growth to two billion users, the next billion is going to have to come from the developing world. Without the internet, that’s a non-starter.
While Berners-Lee would likely applaud the intent, he may feel a bit uneasy that Facebook is the vehicle for change, given that he described the unassailed rise of internet monopolies as helping to “weaponise the web at scale.” Still, if not Facebook, Google or Amazon, then who?