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USSD brings Facebook to any handset

Thanks to USSD, Facebook becomes available on any GSM handset and even the oldest mobile phones can give their users advanced capabilities!

May 13 2013

We all know that tingling urge to check social channels whenever we have an opportunity to do so. It’s enough to find ourselves alone in a waiting room for a couple of minutes, and we get impatient to see if there has been any change on our digital footprint. Care to admit it or not, the impact of social networks on everyday lives has been considerable, and our online activity increasingly defines who we are.

Images, videos and multimedia make social channels more attractive, but sometimes a simple status update can be more than enough to satisfy our hunger.

USSD is a mature telecommunications technology, widely used in online banking, marketing services and ticketing. You’ve probably used it many times to top up your prepaid mobile account (for example, by dialling a number in the *158484# format). In this case, you’ve used USSD as a one-way service, to send a unique number from your top-up card to your operator.

However, USSD technology has a much broader range of possible applications as it actually works two-way, so we put some effort in finding a way to bring it into the domain of social networks. But first of all, why do it?

We perceived a need among certain population groups, especially in countries with limited access to advanced mobile technologies, as well as to 3G network coverage. These circumstances have in many cases obstructed users’ opportunities to use social networks, leaving them on the margins of a global movement that made social networking an important part of contemporary living.

 As Facebook is the central point of online socialising, we’ve decided to extend its accessibility as much as possible, and bring it closer to users of almost any kind of mobile phone there is on the planet. At the same time, we wanted to loosen the users’ dependence on Internet connectivity for accessing Facebook. There is no reason for Facebook to be reserved for smartphones and data plans, when there are other reliable telecommunications technologies, USSD being particularly convenient.

There is more to this service than it may seem at the first glance. Smartphone users can also benefit from Facebook over USSD service while in roaming. Instead of paying for an expensive roaming data plan, they can update their social presence through USSD sessions which are currently not charged.

How did we make USSD work for the users of Facebook? Through the Infobip in-house developed USSD gateway deployed with mobile operators, and by utilising Facebook API we gave users access to Facebook via USSD from their GSM mobile phones. Our solution supports many Facebook features and does not require an Internet connection. Users can confirm friend requests, send messages, navigate through friends and their groups, update statuses, use the wall and poke. All that happens via a series of interactive sessions based on USSD menus displayed on the mobile phone screen.

Thanks to USSD, Facebook becomes available on any GSM handset and even the oldest mobile phones can give their users advanced capabilities, connecting them with millions of Facebook users worldwide.