Two-Thirds Of The World’s Mobiles Are Dumb Phones. Meet The Company Getting Them Online

Sruthijith KK | Quartz | June 9, 2014

This might be the worst Facebook experience ever.

And yet U2opia mobile, a Singapore-based company founded by Indian entrepreneurs, has catapulted to 17 million users in 36 countries as a result. To understand why, you have to unlearn Facebook—its blue background, viral videos, photo uploads—as you know it. And put yourself in the position of someone who has never been on the internet before.

U2opia takes dumb phones and uses the so-called Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) protocol to allow such phones to connect to specific internet services such as Twitter and Facebook tailored for the small screen and text-only functionality. This is done through the company’s proprietary platform Fonetwish, which has signed agreements with Facebook and Twitter. An estimated 62% of the phones used in the world are dumb phones, officially called “feature phones” by manufacturers and networks. Their market share is much higher in emerging markers.

Since its launch in 2011, the platform has steadily acquired users on 53 operator networks in 36 countries. They’re in places as far apart as Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Chad, Niger, Haiti, Honduras, Columbia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Mauritania, among others. To get online, they dial a short three-digit code and then they use the alphanumeric keypad.