Philippines first in the world to get Google Free Zone

Michael Josh Villanueva

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The Philippines is the first country in the world to get Google Free Zone, a service that allows you free access to Gmail, Google+ and Google search without a data plan.

MANILA, Philippines – When it comes to the launch of tech-related products the Philippines isn’t usually the place where you’d get it first. At best we get it along with everyone else, but in most cases, especially when it comes to the most sought after gadgets (like the iPhone 5) Pinoys have to wait a couple of months.

But that’s just changed with the introduction of a service called Free Zone from Google.  

Google on Thursday, November 8 (Friday in the Manila) announced that it was testing out a new service that allows users to access Gmail, Google+ and Google search for free on their mobile phones. Google Free Zone does not require that you have a data plan and will work on most internet enabled mobile phones.  

The Philippines is the only country in the world that has the service as of the moment. To launch the service in the country Google partnered with Globe Telecom. Google Free Zone is only available to prepaid Globe and TouchMobile (TM) subscribers.

Globe calls this a promo and says it will run until March 31, 2013. Not sure what its long term plans are for the service. 

In an interview with Reuters, Google Product Manager AbdelKarim Mardini says the service is, “aimed at the next billion users of the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone without ever owning a PC.” 

Mardi added, “We’re hoping Free Zone will make the mobile Internet feel like a necessity that everyone can use rather than a luxury.” 

Once dubbed the cell phone capital of the world, it comes as no surprise that the Philippines was picked to be the test case for this new product. 

To try out the service log-on to or from your mobile phone. You can also text LIBRE to 8888 and click on the link in the SMS.

A word of warning however, the product will allow you to check your Gmail and Google + accounts for free. You can also search the web using Google search, when you click on links from the search results they are free as well. But once you click further into the page you will be charged data rates for that service. Downloading attachments will also incur charges.

Globe on its website says that it will advise you every time you try to click on a link which leads to a chargeable page.

While this service is limited only to Gmail, search and Google+ it is a great step in reaching out to the millions of Filipinos who do not have access to the Internet. With a 33% Internet penetration rate (according to 2011 Nielsen data) there is still huge room for growth.  

Back in May 2010 Facebook launched a similar service called Facebook Zero that allowed users in countries with participating telcos to access Facebook for free. In its announcement Facebook had indicated that Philippines via Smart Telecom would be one of the first 12 countries in the world to get the service.  

Could this help set off the tipping point that will get more Filipinos online? Let us know what you think in the comments section below or send us a tweet using the hashtag #TechRap. –

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