In a first-of-its-kind pilot initiative in Africa, Airtel, and the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that operates Wikipedia are set to announced a provide Airtel’s customers access to the knowledge and information available on Wikipedia through their mobile phones via text messages (SMS and USSD) free of data charges.
This partnership is part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Zero program, which focuses on reaching the billions of people around the world whose primary opportunity to access the internet is via a mobile device.
The initiative will help provide Wikipedia to 70 million new users in the region, starting in Kenya.
Airtel customers with Internet-enabled handsets can now access the Wikipedia mobile site on their mobile browsers without incurring data charges by going to m.wikipedia.org
For customers who do not have Internet-enabled handsets, Airtel will offer Wikipedia by text message as a pilot program in Kenya. This unique service will allow customers to search Wikipedia using a plain text menu, without the need for a mobile browser. The service, available for GSM subscribers, utilizes USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) technology and allows users to dial *515# to search Wikipedia and receive article summaries via SMS.
“We are thrilled that Airtel has joined us in removing two major barriers to accessing Wikipedia on mobile phones. Not only are we making it freely available on the mobile web but we are are also launching our first Wikipedia via text service that will allow people without data enabled phones to access Wikipedia,” said Kul Takanao Wadhwa, Head of Mobile, Wikimedia Foundation. “Improving access to the Wikimedia projects in Sub-Saharan Africa is a strategic priority for the Foundation and this partnership is another step forward in our mission to enable everyone on the planet to access free knowledge.”
Andre Beyers, Chief Marketing Officer, Airtel Africa said “Airtel is committed to using its infrastructure to expand knowledge across the countries that it operates in. Due to the fact that most of the population has access to a cell phone, it is the best way to reach out and educate our communities. We will offer this service free of charge to our customers to enable access to all.”