Facebook joins GSMA, promises to be an 'active' member of wireless trade group

Social networking giant Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) joined the GSMA, signaling its intentions to become more deeply enmeshed in not only mobile devices but the standards and policy issues facing wireless carriers and vendors.

"Joining GSMA reflects our focus on mobile and our continued desire to work closely and collaboratively with partners in the industry, and we look forward to playing an active role as a member," Dan Rose, vice president of partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement to FierceWireless.

GSMA spokeswoman Claire Cranton told FierceWireless that "Facebook is obviously an significant player in the mobile ecosystem, so a relationship with Facebook is important as the GSMA strives to deliver programs on behalf of our mobile operator members." She said the organization has had "an on-going relationship with Facebook for several years and we are pleased that Facebook has taken the decision to join the GSMA." She also said the group "will look to engage with Facebook in programs that are mutually beneficial."

The membership could signal that Facebook will become more involved at Mobile World Congress, the GSMA's annual trade show. In the past, executives from social networking companies, such as Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, have addressed the conference. Facebook spokesman Derick Mains said the company had nothing to announce about Mobile World Congress "other than to say that it's an important show and that we've increased our presence in Barcelona each year."

"There is no relationship between being a member of the GSMA and doing a keynote," Cranton said. "That said, we would always welcome leaders of companies like Facebook to the stage at Congress, and have had a number of executives speak over the last couple of years."

Facebook is not a member of CTIA or any other wireless trade organization. No other social networking company is currently a member of the GSMA.

Mains told FierceWireless that the biggest benefit of joining GSMA "is it ensures our continued tight alignment with operators worldwide and the issues they care most about. The broad reach of GSMA and its members along with the wide organizational footprint are also benefits to Facebook. Understanding the issues facing operators (and the industry as a whole) across regions is not only important to Facebook but to the efforts of Internet.org."

In August Facebook forged a partnership with industry heavyweights with Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Opera Software, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Samsung Electronics to launch Internet.org, a coalition dedicated to expanding online access via mobile.

Internet.org builds on Facebook's existing efforts to expand social media access to emerging markets. Its Java-based Facebook for Every Phone app, launched in early 2011, targets feature phone owners in developing countries, delivering a pared-down user experience optimized for reduced data consumption. Earlier this year Facebook for Every Phone eclipsed the 100 million active user benchmark.

Mains said Facebook does not own any wireless spectrum or cell towers. "While we don't comment on future plans, I can say that with Internet.org our goal is to work with existing players in the mobile space to help bring the next five billion people online," he said.  

Cranton said if Facebook were to acquire spectrum and "is allocated frequencies to operate a GSM network for the purpose of providing publicly available commercial services it would become eligible for full membership. At present Facebook has joined the GSMA as an associate member."

Facebook's business is increasingly mobile. In the third quarter, sales from mobile promotions made up 49 percent of its total ad revenue (which was $1.8 billion), beating out the 41 percent mark Facebook recorded in the second quarter and up dramatically from 14 percent in the year-ago period. Facebook said mobile monthly active users were 874 million as of Sept. 30, an increase of 45 percent year-over-year. Mobile daily active were 507 million on average for September 2013.

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