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Facebook SIM brings social network to dumb phones

South America ahoy

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Personal Argentina is the first operator to deploy a Facebook-enabled SIM, bringing the social network to any GSM handsets, and into hitherto unexploited markets.

Getting Facebook working on a SIM means using the SIM Toolkit commands, which limits interaction to a cascade of text menus, but it does mean that any GSM handset can now access Facebook. Handsets don't even need an internet connection, as the company's video demonstrates.

Gemalto showed the technology back in February, but didn't have any customers back then. Network operators have complete control over the SIM, so it had to be a network operator – and one in a market where smartphones don't dominate within the socially networked demographic.

Which is where Personal Argentina comes in. South America has always been a difficult market for Facebook, with Fotolog and Sonico taking a lot of the traffic – though Facebook has been making inroads recently – so there should be a ready market of users who want access to their social network of choice, but don't want to spend money on the latest smartphones.

Gemalto's SIM-based approach uses Class 2 SMS for connectivity (SMS messages sent and received by the SIM without user interaction), so the user pays a monthly subscription and gets unlimited use of Facebook, while the operator gets to sell a value-added service without having to spend money on handset subsidies.

But most importantly, Gemalto gets to sell more SIMs, in a market which has rapidly commoditised and sees manufacturers scrabbling around to differentiate their offerings from those of their competitors. ®

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