MWC: Facebook Goes Even Lighter With ‘Facebook Zero’

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Facebook is to release an even lighter version of its software, intended to ease the data strain on hard-pressed mobile phone networks

Facebook has revealed at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it is working on a stripped-down, text-only version of its mobile site, called “Facebook Zero“.

According to the BBC, the low-bandwidth site is designed for people viewing Facebook on their mobile phone, and will launch “in the coming weeks”.

Facebook reportedly said the new site “omits data intensive applications like photos”.

“We are discussing it… as an option to make Facebook on the mobile web available to everyone, anywhere and allow operators to encourage more mobile Internet usage,” said a spokesperson for the firm, quoted on the BBC.

But is a text-only, stripped down version of Facebook really needed? After all, Facebook already has a number of low-bandwidth offerings geared up for use on a mobile phone. This includes Facebook Lite, which has been designed for people with slow or poor Internet connections, mostly in the developing world. This is in addition to another option for mobile phones users, with Facebook Mobile.

And to make matters even more confusing, there is a version of Facebook that is optimised for touchscreen devices such as the iPhone Touch.

The decision by the social networking giant to develop Facebook Zero reflects the fact that nowadays an estimated 100 million users, out of its total 400 million subscriber base, gain access to Facebook via a mobile device.

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Indeed, the BBC quoted data from the industry body, the GSM Association, which recently revealed that Facebook accounts for nearly half of all the time people in the UK spend going online using their phones. The data apparently showed that people in the UK spent around 2.2 billion minutes browsing the social network during December alone.

Statistics like this highlight the growing strain felt by mobile networks across the world, which are having to deal with the transfer of increasing amounts of data.

Last year for example O2 suffered a number of embarrassing network failures in London, and at Christmas the boss of O2 publicly apologised for the failures, blaming the bandwidth strain from the increasing use of smartphones.

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