Who needs data? Google launches Gmail SMS in Africa

Text messaging. It’s one of the functions of a feature phone that graduated to today’s smartphones and continues to be used heavily by people all around the world — even more than voice in many countries. And messaging has long been leveraged for many new services, such as for mobile payments. Now, in three African countries, it can even be used for Gmail.

Google(s goog) introduced the service, called Gmail SMS, on Wednesday in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. Users will first have to register their phone with Google, similar to how one enables Google Voice on a handset, to link the email messaging service. Mail will be forwarded directly to the phone through SMS after that, and the forwarding can be disabled at any time. By texting commands, users can take action on their Inbox and reply to emails through their text message client.

The process to communicate by email through SMS may sound unweildy to those of using full-featured email clients on the web, a smartphone or a tablet. And it likely is. But Gmail SMS can help feature phone owners expand their communications and contacts who are already using email. Think of farmers or vendors in remote areas that can now communicate with clients who rely on the richer experience that email brings, for example.

Perhaps more important though, is the idea of using legacy cellular infrastructure to take the place of high-speed broadband, which may not be available or may be too costly in some areas. Just this morning we noted that the country of Norway has more broadband capacity than the entire African continent. With Google’s unique solution, SMS fills the gap and does so at no extra charges to the consumer, outside of any current operator messaging rates. Long live the feature phone!