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No Internet? Twitter to arrive for the unconnected

Thanks to Singapore-based startup U2opia Mobile, users of low-cost phones in areas devoid of a mobile data connection will be able to access a stripped-down version of the social network.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
2 min read
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Geared toward emerging markets where access to the Internet on entry-level mobile phones is a rarity, Singapore-based startup U2opia Mobile plans to bring a text-only Twitter experience to its users without the need for a data plan, Reuters reported Thursday.

Using the USSD, or Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, protocol that allows mobile phones to communicate with a service provider's computers, U2opia will be able to serve local trending topics to users who dial in a code thanks to a partnership with the social network. USSD does not allow the display of images or video.

With a service called Fonetwish, U2opia similarly uses USSD to deliver Facebook information and enable the Google Talk portion of what is now the search company's Hangouts service to 11 million of its users who do not have a readily available data connection. The company hopes to launch its Twitter portion of Fonetwish in the first quarter of next year.

Twitter, which currently has roughly 230 million users and just last month went public at an initial $24.9 billion valuation, is seeing steady growth in countries like Brazil, India, and Indonesia, but sees lack of mobile Internet infrastructure to be an impediment in growing its user base, and ultimately its advertising revenue, in those markets. U2opia's method is a way to, if not directly increase Twitter activity, at the very least offer up the utility of its real-time information to users who may have never had the opportunity to access it before.

"For a lot of end users in the emerging markets, it's going to be their first Twitter experience," Sumesh Menon, CEO and co-founder of U2opia, told Reuters. Menon noted that 8 out of 10 people in emerging markets do not have access to the Internet on their mobile phones.

U2opia typically takes 30 percent to 40 percent of what users pay their telecom company to access its Fonetwish service. It partners with major international carriers like Vodafone and Telenor to help keep its service, available in 30 countries and in seven languages, catering to fast-growing markets in Africa and South America.