Google (GOOG) is an advertising company, first and foremost. It makes money by attracting users to its wide range of services, collecting and storing as much data as possible about those users, and then showing them targeted advertisements. Android, Google’s mobile operating system that now sits atop the smartphone food chain, is open source and available to vendors for free. Why? Because it brings Google new data on hundreds of millions of users and makes Google’s various services — and ads — easily accessible. But much of the world is still without a smartphone, and Google’s land grab is now extending to the “next billion.”
Google has begun to launch a new service for emerging markets called Free Zone, which will target the “next billion” Internet users who are starting to gain limited access to the Web. Reuters reports that the service will launch first in the Philippines with carrier partner Globe Telecom before rolling out in additional markets.
The Free Zone service is available to users with cell phones that offer limited access to the Internet. Offered in conjunction with wireless carriers, Free Zone allows users to access services like Google Search, Gmail and Google+ for free. Even websites that surface in Google’s search results can be viewed for free, but when a user tries to click through to subsequent pages, he or she will be prompted to subscribe to a mobile data plan.
“It’s aimed at the next billion users of the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone, without ever owning a PC,” Google product manager AbdelKarim Mardini told Reuters.
Google surely hopes that the familiar model — the first taste is free — will promote data plan subscriptions at its carrier partners, but the real value is the removal of the cost barrier that exists between users and Google’s services. Now, users who would otherwise never have afforded access to the mobile Web will be able to use Google’s products — and view its ads.