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Google brings new 'e-mail via text message' service to Africa

The Web giant is introducing a new service to millions of cell phone users in Africa, which lets people send and receive e-mails through SMS messages.

While a huge percentage of Africa's more than 1 billion residents have cell phones, far fewer have access to e-mail. Google is trying to change that.

According to the Associated Press, the Web giant is embarking on an ambitious endeavor that will let people receive e-mails via text messages. In effect, Google will be giving people access to the Internet with feature handsets. Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya are the first countries to get the service.

Nigerians began seeing ads posted on billboards around the country for Google's text message email service in July, according to the Associated Press. The way the service works is that it lets users get their Gmail e-mails for free as text messages -- and the cost of a reply is only what it costs to send a text message.

The plus side for Google is that there is the potential to make a lot of money from Africa's millions of mobile users.

"We don't want to just come in and start looking for how to generate profit," Google's Nigeria marketing manager Affiong Osuchukwu told the Associated Press. "We consider (sub-Saharan Africa) to be an investment region. We know we have to invest resources and time to develop the market in order for the market to become valuable to us in a way that we can do business."

This isn't the first time that Google has worked in Africa on mobile platforms. It partnered with the non-profit Grameen Foundation in 2009 to let cell phone users in Uganda get information on health, agriculture, and the weather through SMS text queries. Then, last year, Google worked with France Telecom to bring a service called Gmail SMS Chat, which cuts the cost of text messaging in several African countries.

CNET contacted Google for more information on its text message e-mail service. We'll update the story when we get hear back.