Ghana is the first African country to use the Free Google SMS – the latest product of the Internet search giant that allows Gmail users to send text messages to mobile phones at no cost. “These people keeps surprising and you never know what they would come up with next,” a fascinated Gmail user Adjei noted.
I had an interview with the Lead of the Google Ghana Office Estelle Akofio-Sowah for my company AfricaNews to know more about the service. Below is the full transcription of the interview at the new Google Ghana Office:
AfricaNews: What is SMS in Chat?
Estelle: It is a new feature in Gmail that allows you to communicate from online to offline on the phone. Basically, it allows you to still within your chat box type in a message and send it to someone’s mobile phone for free. And when they reply they pay the standard SMS fee and the response would appear in your chat box. This adds convenience and flexibility in communicating through various channels.
AfricaNews: What has been the response?
Estelle: The feedback has been really positive from the users so we are looking forward to ask more people to join and continue using it. People need to understand how it works and the convenience of it.
AfricaNews: Can Gmail users access the service on their mobile phones?
Estelle: No. It is from the computer to a mobile phone and the response is vice-versa.
AfricaNews: When is that going to come?
Estelle: I think it is something that people would be looking up for but I can’t answer to that. Normally, Google does try to look into people’s request so when that comes up we’ll definitely look into it.
AfricaNews: Are you not going to kill the mobile network operators’ business in Ghana?
Estelle: This new product is being done in partnership with the operators. They understand that it increases convenience for people to communicate. It is a bit like the CALL ME BACK service. While someone is online they want to communicate with someone who is offline and on their phone that enables such person to respond. So the operators are partnering with Google for the benefit of their users. They see the need to create that platform of convenience to their users too. They recognize that the more channels you give to users the more people are going to communicate. So it is beneficial to all parties involved.
AfricaNews: How difficult was it to convince them to be part of this idea?
Estelle: We have been working and discussing with the Ghana network operators for a long time. Ghana is one of the very aggressive countries in terms of mobile penetration so when a good idea or something that is useful for their subscribers come up I don’t think that those conversations are going to be difficult. It is a very competitive environment and everyone wants to make sure they are offering services that users are asking for. So we look forward to doing many exciting things with operators in Ghana.
AfricaNews: Such as?
Estelle: [Laughs]. Well those are the secrets I have to keep to keep on surprising all of you with. But definitely we have got aggressive plan for Ghana and throughout sub-Saharan Africa for 2010. There is going to be some fun stuff around the World Cup in South Africa, lots of engagement with developers, universities and just to turn that key to get the whole internet eco-system working. We hope that the prices of internet access come down this year as well as price on devices with Glo bringing in additional fibre cable. So Ghanaian internet users must keep their ears to the ground and stay abreast with the news for latest technology being released.
AfricaNews: Can Gmail users in Ghana send free SMS to people living outside the country?
Estelle: The service is available in the US, Israel, Palestine, Ghana and the UK.
AfricaNews: What does it mean for Ghana being the first African country to start the service?
Estelle: I am particularly excited. I hope that there are going to be many first for Ghana with Google. Ghana is not only being champion for its political and economic stability but there have been strong efforts and drive from government and the private sector to position Ghana as an ICT hub. This is a reflection of Google’s commitment and support to that movement to position Ghana in terms of ICT and infrastructure. Ghanaians are fast adapting to technology than the world may be recognizing and this is just another way of flagging Ghana as a destination that the large organizations like Google need to focus on because the users are ready to receive the technology in their lives and work.
AfricaNews: Message to non-Google users?
Estelle: This is another reason to try out Gmail. Gmail is a great product – not only the huge space for storage but has very good spam control. Once you are in Gmail you have got Google Calendar that you can use to organize your work and share it with business partners, Google Docs to share documents online and edit with multiple people, Picasa our photo service among others. So within one space you can easily get so much done to enhance your productivity online.