Google’s big India play: free Wi-Fi – for its sites

Google's big India play will offer web users free Wi-Fi — but only to access the heretofore lackluster Google+ social networking site and YouTube.

The Atlantic's tech blog suggests that the move is a transparent effort to push its profit-making tie-up with O-Zone Networks, rather than an altruistic part of its fast disappearing promise of more and more free services.

But the offer could nevertheless be a game changer for India.

The Atlantic reports:

Google's success so far has been built on a kind of strategic selfishness that has managed, pretty remarkably, to marry altruism with self-interest; by doing good, Google has done well. Really, really well. Little moves like its gift horse to India, however, suggest that the balance might be tipping toward something more traditionally corporate. Google's free Wi-Fi offer is a three-month pilot project at this point, but the company's in talks with O-Zone to make the access partnership an ongoing arrangement. The "Inc." is a powerful thing.

So, why could this be a gamechanger for India?

Indians love free stuff, of course — that's why the $5 whiskeys aboard American Airlines put a stop to unruly passengers demanding drinks. But it's more than that. A very small minority of Indians currently access the internet, but more and more folks like my boxing trainer/sparring partner have fancy phones ready for 3G and Wi-Fi services.

And social networking is huge here.

A recent study found that India already has 34 million Facebook users, while another noted that brand marketers can count on social networking responses from Asian users much more often than counterparts in the West.

So what does that mean? According to HuffPo, India's Facebook users account for only 3 percent of the population — a number that's expected to grow massively.

Facebook has hardly reached market saturation in countries like India and Brazil. In India only 3 percent of the population uses Facebook, and that number is increasing rapidly. In the past nine months, Indian Facebook users have gone from 22 million to 36 million, reports iCrossing.

And Google+?

Facebook's user base far exceeds that of other social networks. At Facebook's F8 conference in September, the company revealed that it had passed 800 million users. In September, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo announced that the site had 100 million active users. According to unofficial G+ statistician Paul Allen, Google's social network may have exceeded 62 million members in December.

Google+ is doing about as well here as it has in the rest of the world, so far. But measures like bumping posts up in the Google search queue if they're shared on Google+, not to mention free Wi-Fi to use it, will no doubt give Facebook a run for its users.

And likely generate an anti-trust suit or two down the road.

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