Beyond the smartphone: Facebook, Ericsson build an app lab for the developing world

We’re likely going to hear a lot more about the Facebook-led coalition at Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address at Mobile World Congress Monday evening. But this morning Facebook(s fb) and Ericsson(s eric) gave a sneak peak of their plans to connect to the billions of unconnected in the world.

The world’s largest mobile network supplier and the world’s biggest social network are creating a development lab on Facebook’s campus in Menlo park, inviting developers to test their software on the types of networks and phones you’d find in developing countries like Nigeria or Indonesia.

Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg

“The majority of the world’s mobile subscribers in the world are on 2G networks,” Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg told me during an interview in Barcelona. “Sometimes we forget that being in Sweden or the U.S.”

One of the premises of is that apps today aren’t exactly friendly to the large part of the world’s population without smartphones, LTE and the financial resources to afford big data plans. When developers code today they’re not typically thinking about how costly a megabyte of data might be to most people living in the third world or that a GSM network can’t handle the vast quantity of signaling traffic generated by a social media app.

Facebook Feature Phone

Ericsson and Facebook claim that they want to change that thinking by showing developers directly how their apps would work on networks and devices in, say, Nairobi without forcing their testers to travel overseas. Ericsson builds a good deal of the world’s mobile networks so it’s in a good position to recreate them in the lab. Ericsson is also offering up its device and app verification services, which can simulate how an app will perform on the lowliest feature phone or inexpensive Android smartphone.

Facebook also announced a separate initiative with Nokia(s nok) and African carrier Airtel to launch a collaborative learning pilot project in Rwanda. Instead of building expensive computer labs or passing out tablets, SocialEDU will build its service entirely on low-cost Nokia phones.