Facebook is dipping its toes into the ISP business with Express Wi-Fi. This app allows users in developing countries to buy data packs that can be used at hotspots. The app is currently live in five developing countries. The hot spots themselves are managed by local business owners, and Facebook hopes it can provide an alternative to the slow data plans offered by cell carriers.
Express Wi-Fi isn’t completely new, but Facebook’s Play Store App offers several key improvements over the first version. For starters, it’s available on the Play Store, which makes it a lot easier to find, plus it no longer requires users to reconfigure their phones. The Play Store app also offers a way for users to find various hot spots nearby.
“Facebook is releasing the Express Wi-Fi app in the Google Play store to give people another simple and secure way to access fast, affordable internet through their local Express Wi-Fi hotspots,” a Facebook representative told Tech Crunch.
Facebook has tried something like this in the past with Free Basics, but that option was widely derided, as it only offered a handful of Facebook-approved services, rather than true internet access.
The app marks a major push to expand Facebook’s market into the developing world, where lack of quality internet can make social media sites difficult, if not impossible, to use. The move comes at a time when Facebook is nearly omnipresent in developed nations, though there are signs that it may be declining. In Q4, Facebook saw its U.S. and Canadian userbase decline by 700,000. This was, in part, due to Newsfeed changes, which no longer emphasized viral videos as much.
In order to sustain itself, the company needs to find new members and the developed world may be nearly tapped out. This is partially the reason Facebook has embarked on a number of initiatives meant to provide developing countries with affordable access to the internet. In addition to Express Wi-Fi, it is working to develop solar drones, which can provide internet service to people in remote areas.
Though the company may have humanitarian aims in mind with these endeavors, it is also an investment in Facebook’s future. After all, the first step towards getting people on Facebook is getting them online.