Mobile operator and MEF Member, Telenor, has released the results of a free Facebook campaign in Pakistan, aimed at bringing first-time Internet users online.

Facebook was provided with a zero-rated data plan to all Telenor subscribers. The result was a spike in internet uptake, with a significant chunk of new users going on to use paid data services on the network. Below, MEFTV speaks to VP Head of Global Partnerships, Karianne Melleby at MWC about the study and the opportunities and challenges of this and other global exciting markets.

Expansion of Internet usage in Pakistan

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Figure: Mobile Internet users in Pakistan Telenor Free. Telenor Free FB campaign changes the trajectory

2014 was a banner year for Internet adoption in Pakistan. Mobile operators launched the first 3G networks in the country, smartphones became more common, and consumer-friendly data offers onboarded millions of first-time Internet users. In 2014, the number of mobile Internet users in Pakistan doubled, bringing almost 8 million new people online.

Telenor, a major mobile operator, took a leadership role in driving mobile Internet adoption in Pakistan. At the beginning of the year, Telenor launched a Free Facebook campaign aimed at bringing first-time Internet users online. Facebook was zero-rated (provided without data charges, without any opt-in) to all Telenor subscribers as an onramp to the Internet. The campaign ran for the first half of 2014 and produced a sudden jump in the rate of new people joining the Internet.

After the campaign, many of the newly acquired data subscribers graduated to paid data usage on Telenor’s network. Telenor provided additional targeted pricing campaigns to ease the transition and maintain engagement on their network.

Commercial benefits for Telenor

Along with contributing to a more connected society in Pakistan, Telenor saw a number of commercial benefits from the campaign.

  • More mobile data users: 90-day active Internet users increased from 17% of Telenor’s subscriber base to 22% of subscriber base. Almost 20% of Telenor’s previously voice-only subscribers sampled the Free Facebook offering.
  • New high-quality core subscribers on the network: The campaign grew the number of core subscribers on Telenor’s network. The new acquisitions brought on by Free Facebook generated additional revenue (voice, SMS) and were less likely to churn.
  • High conversion to paid data usage: A majority of the subscribers who sampled Free Facebook later purchased data on Telenor’s network.

Internet.org: A sustainable evolution of zero-rating

Telenor, along with other operators, saw significant commercial upside from their zero-rating campaigns. However, temporary zero-rating campaigns have to end at some point. While many newly acquired subscribers do remain with the network, some discontinue mobile data usage or flee to competitors after shutdown.

Based on the experiences from the partnership with Telenor and other operators, Facebook has launched the Internet.org app. The Internet.org app provides an onboarding experience for first-time mobile data users that is commercially sustainable for operators to offer to subscribers indefinitely, thereby connecting more people and ensuring they are retained.

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