Free Gmail SMS in SA: why so late?

Google’s free Gmail SMS chat service went live in South Africa this week (12 March 2012). It allows Gmail users to chat with mobile phone users via SMS for free.

“The service has been specifically designed with consumers on the African continent in mind and will bring a new level of flexibility and mobility to Gmail Chat,” said Luke McKend, Country Manager for Google South Africa.

The free Gmail SMS service was first launched in October 2008 in the United States, and since then Google expanded the number of territories where this service is offered.

The Gmail SMS Chat service was launched in Kenya in 2010, raising the question of why South Africa lagged behind numerous African countries and other developing nations to get the service.

Google South Africa explained that Gmail SMS Chat was initially launched and tested in countries with very low Internet penetration to help the few online users communicate more easily with their many offline contacts.

“After the successful uptake of Gmail SMS Chat in the initial launch countries, we’ve brought the service to many more countries and operators, with a focus on emerging market countries,” said Google.

Only MTN and 8ta are currently supporting the service, but Vodacom and Cell C said that they are assessing the viability of also supporting Google’s free Gmail SMS Chat service.

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Free Gmail SMS in SA: why so late?