Mobile World Congress: Mark Zuckerberg turns on the charm

Facebook founder tells Mobile World Congress it’s not social media connecting the planet

Trying out  Samsung Gear VR devices at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Ninety thousand executives, marketers and reporters gather in Barcelona this week for the event. Photograph: Reuters

Trying out Samsung Gear VR devices at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Ninety thousand executives, marketers and reporters gather in Barcelona this week for the event. Photograph: Reuters

 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was on the charm offensive with wireless carriers and telecoms firms during his keynote address at Mobile World Congress.

Discussing Facebook’s Internet.org project, an attempt to spread affordable internet access across the globe, he emphasised it was telecoms firms and operators connecting the world, not the social network. The telcos have been sceptical as they invest in the infrastructure, while companies like Facebook benefit from the mass connectivity, he said.

“We are different from operators. We are trying to help people connect with other people. It’s really important to not lose sight of the fact that the ones that are driving this are the operators,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

He defended apps such as WhatsApp, which enable free communication, saying they ultimately drive data usage.

Data services

“The business for operators used to be, and for a lot still is, instant messaging but its moving to data services. Apps [like WhatsApp] drive data usage,” he said.

“You used to charge for the phone and SMS. Over time it will be data and other services.”

He said a lot of people did not grow up with the internet – thus the need for free services: “If you ask them do they want a data plan, you first have to explain why they want to be on the internet. So that’s why we’re offering free services.”

Mr Zuckerberg also said he would be open to working with Google on Internet.org, adding the service was launched with Google Search in Zambia.

Google senior vice-president of products Sundar Pichai told Mobile World Congress the search giant will launch an experimental mobile network in the US in the coming months.

Discussing a Google-branded network, he said: “We don’t intend to be a network operator at scale. We are actually working with carrier partners.” Google’s work in mobile networks is literally sky high: its Project Loon uses stratospheric balloons to beam internet to the ground below.

Balloon cell towers

Mr Pichai said the balloons have travelled over 15 million kilometres of sky and some have stayed up for nearly 200 days. He said this proves balloons can function like floating cell towers. “As one balloon floats away from your area, another floats into place,” he said.

He added the company is working on a “promising project” called Titan.The Titan team is building a super-lightweight solar-powered aircraft capable of hovering in one area of the stratosphere.

Earlier in the day, Nissan-Renault chief executive Carlos Ghosn told the event driverless cars are at least 10 years away due to regulatory and cyber security issues. He said said the first wave of autonomous driving will emerge next year, but will be limited to when cars are stuck in traffic jams. “The technology is ready; we just need regulators to accept.”