Last week, we had the opportunity to interview Sebastien Violette, Marketing Manager for Mobile Social Media and Messaging Apps at Gemalto. We focused the interview on how Gemalto worked with Facebook to bring social media to emerging markets.

Can you say a few words on Gemalto and its activities today?

Gemalto started back in 2006 and has since become a world leader in digital security. Our main goal is to create trust in the digital era so people feel comfortable using their technology and connect to more things. Working with some of the world’s largest banks, enterprises, connectivity providers and governments, our solutions bring trust to billions of people around the world.

We develop secure software and operating systems which we embed in many kinds of devices, like SIM cards, banking cards, tokens, electronic passports and ID cards. We are working in some of technology’s leading areas of innovation including mobile payments, device security, chip card technology and machine-to-machine. Gemalto is an international company with offices in 44 countries and 12,000 employees representing 113 nationalities.

You were in charge of the project “Facebook for SIM”, can you tell us more about it?

In most developing or emerging countries the feature phone remains the most common mobile device due to the lack of network infrastructure needed to support the Smartphone. To address this large mobile user market based, in 2008, Gemalto collaborated with Microsoft to design a SIM-based application that would bring Windows Live Messenger / MSN to emerging countries and expand the reach of their instant messaging service. The SIM-based model gave users an easy way to communicate with their MSN Messenger contacts that didn’t require a data subscription or smartphone. Following the deployment of the SIM-based model with Microsoft, we were able to quickly reach a double-digit number of customers in Latin America, Africa and Asia. A similar approach was also launched with Yahoo that targeted primarily the Asian market.

Since the inception of social media back in the late nineties it has grown substantially and by 2017, the global social network audience will total 2.55 billion. Facebook now one of the leading social media platforms gained mainstream popularity in 2009 and was looking for ways to increase their user base in developing countries with the majority of new users coming from Africa and Asia. Gemalto worked with Facebook to implement the successful SIM-based application and launched Facebook for SIM in early 2011. The first users were connected in Argentina in October 2011 and since we have expanded to other mobile carriers in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Facebook for SIM works as a client/server SIM app that –on one hand–provides a mobile interactive version of Facebook to any handset using the SMS protocol, and –on the other hand – helps to increase the data usage of Internet-enabled phones. The latter aspect corresponds to the priority of carriers across developing countries to offer customers social media connectivity. Although smartphone penetration is on the rise everywhere, basic handset or simple data-enabled phones as mentioned still represents the majority of the handset market in emerging countries. Add into the equation that owning a smartphone does not necessarily mean people use mobile data services, the Facebook for SIM application lets carriers in developing countries address both the feature and smartphone market without requiring data plans.

If you ask any mobile operator’s data expert the following question: “Out of 100 people owning a smartphone, how many use regularly data services?” A frequent response would confirm that data services have still yet to be developed in emerging counties. For example a recent Q&A with Smart Philippines, Orlando Vea, revealed only 15% of their users owned a smartphone and of them only 25% use data services.

One reason for low mobile data usage is the price which creates a barrier to internet access in developing countries as well as the limited internet coverage. The second reason is the user behavior: people who owned a basic phone for years and transition to a smartphone- are still more familiar with SMS as opposed to using a handset browser to search the app store or download an app.

What were your takeaways from the “Facebook for SIM” deployment and how it relates to other social media sites?

When developing the SIM applications such as Facebook for SIM, we considered these current parameters and analyzed the market needs. Working with Facebook, we helped them become a leading social network provider and enter into these new markets where the number of smartphones and data service options were minimal. The results speak for themselves: out of 100 people who successfully created their Facebook account from this SMS-based app, 22% migrated to mobile data after 30 days only. Adapter the user mentality to mobile data services was thanks to a built-in mechanism that helps users to familiarize themselves with the handset browser. The SIM-based application is essentially providing a gateway between the SMS world and the new era of mobile data services.

As more social media sites whether professional or personal, such as Twitter or LinkedIn set their sights on entering emerging markets, our technology is bringing a cross functional solution for smartphones and feature phones. The benefits are not only to social network providers but also mobile network operators looking for new ways to engage with their customers by giving them options that meet their needs no matter what their handset or cost considerations.  Both mobile operators and social networks have billions of untapped customers who are looking for solutions to communicate, engage and chat with one another and we are designing ways to reach these mobile users

We are seeing more and more initiatives to provide remote regions or developing countries with internet services. How is Gemalto doing in this space?

Gemalto is working across many industry verticals to bring innovative and important services to remote regions and developing countries through mobile connectivity. While social media is one, we are also involved in initiatives that are bringing mobile internet services such as mobile money, mHealth, mobile-based cloud backup, and mobile marketing to name a few.

Gemalto is playing a part in the recently announced GSMA pan-African mHealth initiative to improve maternal and child health and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. The project brings together mobile, health and public sector experts to outline the infrastructure, services and solutions necessary to meet the needs of over 15 million pregnant women and mothers with children under five years old. It began across seven countries (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia) in September 2014 and has been extended to a further four (Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania) in 2015.

It is estimated that 2.5 billion people in lower to middle income countries are unbanked. Take Latin America for example, financial inclusion is low however mobile penetration rates in the region are somewhere between 90-100%.  In 2012, Gemalto was selected by banks and mobile network operators in Mexico to provide the mobile technology for the new mobile money initiative, Transfer, to promote financial inclusion.

Since mobile connectivity is something we all benefit from Gemalto is creating solutions that work across minimal infrastructure, connectivity restrictions, remote locations and even handset models.

Gemalto worked with several Tech Giants from Silicon Valley : Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo. What can we expect from Gemalto’s future partnerships ?

Gemalto is working behind the scenes with some of the most recognizable companies in the industry to secure mobile payments, enterprise access and security, connected devices and government applications. Developing technology that is applicable across so many sectors gives Gemalto opportunities to work and partner with other innovative companies. Right now, we are seeing a lot of interest and collaboration from device companies, banks and event organizers interested in launching wearable options for payment and entry.

Since technology is everywhere, even wearable – people are wanting to use it to monitor themselves. The “Quantifiable Self” movement is a perfect example of how people want to have more actionable data about themselves. Many companies in this space we work with are involved in mHealth so doctors and patients can have real-time information on their well-being and overall health.

A big area of development with in partnerships and innovation is the Internet of Things. We are hosting incubation cells and hackathons to bring together developers, we even have an entire space dedicated to our IoT developer community. We are working with many consumer brands such as car companies and appliance manufacturers that are wanting to connect and secure objects. But this field also means we are partnering with many startup interested in getting their device to market quickly and connecting it to whatever the consumer wants.

Tying everything together from smart cities to devices, Gemalto has a strong background in mobile communications and technology like the ever popular near-field-communications (NFC) for mobile payments. Working with leading US and international mobile network operators, we have the connectivity experience but also security like mobile authentication. The mobile industry is fast-paced and the technology needs to be as well for example the explosion in mobile apps over the past few years with new apps being developed every day. It’s the inherent desire of mobile users to  digitally connect with one another that is driving the ecosystem and the future development is based on partnerships. We will continue to seek out global partnership with startups (such as Boston-based OnePIN, the world leader in delivering mobile social call connectivity and social address book solutions), social media companies, network operators, over-the-top players and anyone in the mobile economy to make sure everyone has secure and reliable access to the mobile services they want or need.

To get in touch with Sebastien Violette:

  • on Twitter @sebviolette
  • Via email sebastien.violette(a)