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Mobile Operators Give Vkontakte Users Free Access

vkontakte logo Vkontakte Release New Application RulesThe Russian mobile operators MTS and Beeline have agreed to provide free web access to the social platform Vkontakte. Founder Paul Durov confirmed the move on the company blog,

We are pleased to announce that, through cooperation with mobile operators, MTS and Beeline are free to use a lightweight version 0.vkontakte.ru.

This means that if you are a subscriber listed operators, regardless of your rate you can go to 0.vkontakte.ru from your phone for free. 0.vkontakte.ru – Light version of the site which allows you to read and send personal messages, share with friends, news and other textual information.

Mobile phone penetration in Russia has now topped 140%, with more than 209m SIM cards bought by a population of 143m.

Russian mobile users are already keen web users. According to a Neilson Mobile Media Marketplace report carried out at the end of 2008, Russia now scores 3rd place in Europe and 4th in the world in terms of mobile penetration.

This year Russia ranks 4th in Mobile Internet Penetration, as 11.2% of Russian mobile users access the web through their cell phones, trailing only the U.S. (15.6%), UK (12.9%), and Italy (11.2%) and staying ahead of France, Germany and Spain

While 11.2% is impressive in terms of world mobile internet penetration, this deal by Vkontakte opens their platform up to the other 88.2% – given they own a web-enabled phone. “Free” is an attractive sales proposition to new users who normally wouldn’t sign-up for expensive web tariffs.

So why are the losers in this deal? The obvious ones are their main competition, Facebook. Already lagging far behind Vkontakte on user numbers this will not help their position. Verifiable statistics on this point are hard to come by – the TNS report of March shows reach figures for both sites – but Vkontakte claims 97m users against Facebook’s 1.3m.

Less obvious losers are the search engines. The new generation of web users are increasingly turning to Facebook for their online activity. Rather than using search engines, social platforms have become their destination with friends and networks delivering the information they want.

This deal will accelerate this process for Vkontakte in Russia. Users do not have free access to Yandex, Google or Mail.ru so will turn to their services instead. More importantly, as they are indexes rather than self-contained platforms, mobile providers are unable to offer search engines the same deal.

Update: I can confirm that Facebook have signed the same deal with Beeline and MTS to provide free access to their light version, http://0.facebook.com or http://m.facebook.com (as promoted outside Russia).

About Nick Wilsdon

Nick Wilsdon works as a Content and Digital Strategy Consultant He manages online campaigns for the UK's leading telecom, finance and FMCG brands.

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