GoSmart, T-Mobile's budget prepaid subsidiary, announced on Monday that it will give users free access to Facebook without a mobile plan.
Beginning in January, GoSmart customers will be able to access the social network via the Facebook app, Facebook Messenger, or through a web browser. For free.
While customers will have access anything in the Facebook ecosystem, they would not be able to, say, follow a link or watch a video in another page. But, for many users, being able to post updates, see what their friends are up to, and send messages may be all they really need—socially speaking.
I'll be honest: I had never even heard of GoSmart before. While I spend my time covering unnecessary high-end mobile trends, it's easy to forget that there's a huge swath of the population that has no interest in shelling out a week's paycheck for the ability to play dress-up with their phone.
The service, which launched in March, offers pre-paid mobile plans without a credit check that range from $25/month for unlimited talk to $45/month of unlimited talk and text with 5GB of "high-speed" (3G) data.
GoSmart's webpage title includes the term "cheap" twice if that's any indication of who its intended customer base is.
Customers who sign-up with GoSmart can purchase a low-tier no-name smartphone like the proprietary-OS'd Alcatel OT 838 for $19 (after a $50 mail-in rebate) or purchase an SIM conversion kit to migrate over any unlocked GSM-compatible devices.
The GoSmart deal isn't the first time that Facebook has sought to expand its user base by lowering the bar of mobile access.
In 2011, Facebook launched a partnership with Indian provider Airtel to offer complimentary USSD-based Facebook access (allowing users could access the network via a text-based dumbphone interface). Twitter has also pursued repackaging its network of thought sneezes for dumbphones, which still rule throughout the developing world.
According to Facebook's Q3 financial report, 874 million active users access Facebook through mobile (up from 819 million in Q2). But amid growing social competition, Facebook still needs to device novel ways to draw more eyeballs to feed their ad-based network.
The complimentary access plans are a win-win for both Facebook and providers: Facebook increases traffic into their network, while providers can boast an added amenity that will attract more monthly subscribers—many of whom may be inching into the mobile web age for the very first time.