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Get Facebook on ANY Mobile Phone via USSD

By Wayan Vota on April 4, 2012


Do you want to join the millions of people on Facebook across Africa? But are you stuck with an old feature phone? Want no more! Orange is launching Facebook for any mobile phone using USSD technology, a low-bandwidth data service that is accessible from even the most basic phones.

Orange Egypt saw 350,000 customers connect the first month and they’ve just launched Facebook via USSD in Côte d’Ivoire. Further countries in Orange’s African footprint will launch throughout 2012.

Why does Facebook on USSD matter?

Now the fine folks over at Mesia Nama ask why Ariltel in India and Orange in Africa care to make Facebook accessible via USSD:

Although, USSD is a menu-based system that enables interfacing with content based services to pull content to the phone natively, using network infrastructure, and stays connected with the network till a particular session ends, there are some caveats. The service supports up to 182 characters, which means that users will not be able to post longer messages and updates. Also, the interface is entirely textual and relies a lot on alphanumerical inputs for navigation.

We wonder why in the age of mobile internet, telcos and web service companies are introducing services through old-world channels. Doesn’t this affect usability of the service and limit functionality in a major way?

The answer is simple. Yes, it does impact usability, but not enough to matter to the millions of Africans (and Indians) who want to Facebook on their basic Nokia handsets and other old-school phones. Facebook already has massive adoption across Africa with Internet-connected consumers, but there are even millions more that do not have Facebook and never will have a laptop or fancy smartphone.

USSD joins Facebook for Every Phone and Facebook 0, and this is yet another onramp for the millions still yearning for their own timeline.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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6 Comments to “Get Facebook on ANY Mobile Phone via USSD”

  1. Joe W. says:

    The primary driver behind the use of USSD is that it relieves congestion on mobile networks. USSD uses its own communication channel, which is separate from the channels that carry SMS and voice traffic. So by pushing Facebook traffic onto USSD, operators free up channels that can then be used for voice and SMS services, allowing them to expand overall network capacity. If this weren’t the case, then operators would have pushed for Facebook over SMS rather than USSD. So it’s somewhat self-serving from the operator perspective…

  2. Interesting to see how #Orange adapts its channels to fit their audience. I wonder about users’ uptake…

  3. Anonymous says:


    Hi, I would like to know a little bit more about that thing you said about USSD being a tool to relief congestion on mobile… Do you have more information about it? On the other hand, I understand that USSD platform are usually 3rd party platform that charges telcos on a licence basis, so in that case, although it reliefs services, doesnt it makes it costly considering the million of accesses that they may have through ussd with facebook?

    Thank you very much for your support



  4. Jaume Fortuny says:

    Make it simple.

    Even more effective would be to have replacement parts close, cheap and accessible. And train local staff to make maintenance.

    Why not give additional incentives to local people, not just for report but for maintenance and repairing of water pumps? It would help to create sustainable business models.

    Perhaps technology should be used by the logistics of spare parts and for technicians training.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dear Sir/Madam

    Wanted to understand the technology part that is involved in connecting to the internet via USSD.


  6. […] 3.      Incorporate partnerships with companies that provide technical aspects on mobile phones.  One example is Fonetwish.  “Fonetwish uses a little-known protocol common to nine out of 10 phones on the planet, called USSD, to create a text-based interface for sites such as Facbook,” states one blog.  In fact, Orange, one of the leading mobile carriers in Africa, rolled out Facebook by Fonetwish on a trial basis to 350,000 users in Egypt at the end of 2011. […]