Airtel Kenya has partnered with Wikimedia Foundation to test pilot free access to Wikipedia through mobile text messages, CapitalFM reports.
The service, the first of its kind, is targeted at African users with limited or no Internet connection.
Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Zero Program focuses on reaching the billions of people around the world whose primary opportunity to access the Internet is via mobile device. The partnership will give Wikipedia access to 70 million new users in the region, starting in Kenya.
It’s “another step forward in our mission to enable everyone on the planet to access free knowledge,” said Kul Takanao Wadhwa, head of mobile for the Wikimedia Foundation.
The partnership removes two major barriers to accessing Wikipedia on mobile phones, Wadhwa said: making it freely available on the mobile web and launching a first-ever Wikipedia via text service that will allow people without data-enabled phones to access Wikipedia.
Airtel will offer Wikipedia by text message as a three-month pilot program. Customers can search Wikipedia using a plain text menu, without the need for a mobile browser. The service, available for global system for mobile communications (GSM) subscribers, uses unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) by dialing *515#, which will give a short message (SMS) prompting them to search for articles.
“Airtel is committed to using its infrastructure to expand knowledge across the countries that it operates in,” said Andre Beyers for Airtel Africa. “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.”
Airtel has also announced that customers with Internet-enable handsets can now access the Wikipedia mobile site – m.wikipedia.org – on their mobile browsers without incurring data charges.