Gmail account holders in Malawi don’t get surprised to see a pop up in your Gmail account telling you, ‘Gmail SMS is now available in Malawi.’ Google has just introduced its free SMSes in the country.

But how does the Free SMS work?

For those who have Google email account (i.e, there is a new ‘Send SMS’ box just above the ‘Chat’ box in the Gmail interface, which allows you to send an SMS to a number by entering the phone number into the box.

Pressing the ‘Enter’ key brings up a dialog box which allows you to send type and send the actual text message.

You can also enter the name of a contact in the chat box and right click to bring up a context menu which includes ‘Send SMS Message’. Currently Gmail SMS supports sending messages to four destinations; Malawi, Israel, United States, Palestinian Territories, and Ghana with two operators in Malawi, TNM and Airtel supporting the feature. The SMS messages are integrated into the chat interface and SMS replies appear as a reply in Chat. These SMS conversations are also stored in your Chat history just like regular chats. Each user seems to have 50 messages, although I cannot tell currently over which period it applies.

Gmail also provides some commands to help manage your SMS messages via your phone. These commands are possible because Google associates each Gmail SMS messages with a unique number tied to the email address sending the SMS. Here are some commands that might come in handy for you down the road when using SMS with Chat:

HELP: Text this command to any Gmail SMS number and you’ll get a response reminding you of some of the basics of SMS and a refresher of some of the other useful commands STOP: This command will block all SMS messages from Gmail
START: Re-enables you to receive SMS messages from Gmail if you’re currently blocking them
BLOCK: Send to the code number for a particular contact to block messages from that specific person UNBLOCK: Allows a blocked contact to send you SMS messages in the future

Privacy and Abuse are two potential issues especially since the service is based on such a private mode of communication as mobile phones and phone numbers may be considered personally identifiable information. There are SMS commands for recipients to block specific accounts from sending them SMS.

If you receive an unwanted SMS message from Gmail Chat, you can block future messages from the sender. Just reply to the message with the word ‘BLOCK’. If you change your mind about that sender, you can send a message with the phrase ‘UNBLOCK’ to the phone number from which the message was sent (the SMS messages sent from Gmail Chat have their own number associated with the sender’s email account).

If you send the command ‘STOP,’ you’ll block all SMS messages from Gmail accounts.

I believe this is a really smart move by Google, for two main reasons which will both have positive outcomes for Google in Malawi.

Increased Google Users :
Free SMS is a very powerful offer for people to try out Gmail especially since it is integarted into the email messaging and chat so tightly. Once they become Gmail users they are more likely to end up using other Google products like Google Calendar which also has SMS integrated, Blogger and a whole lot of others.

Mobile Advertising:
Mobile search and advertising is one of Google’s high growth areas and although in other countries display ads may be sufficient, SMS advertising is more suited for Malawi. With this move Google may end up with a database of users against which they can execute a mobile SMS advertising strategy without licensing third party data from providers in Malawi.

This is the second development of free SMSes in Malawi as Airtel also offers ‘web2sms’ service whereby a person on internet can send 5 free SMSes a day to Airtel mobile phone&gt>

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  • Stima Jones  On 06/11/2011 at 08:24

    I have tried it and it is really working but my question is, there is credit being shown and it is shown to be 50. When this credit ends what next? Are you not going to be able to send the texts forever?

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