We’re excited to announce VimpelCom, the sixth largest mobile network operator in the world, as the newest partner in the Wikipedia Zero program. By waiving data fees to access Wikipedia on mobile phones, VimpelCom will join the Wikimedia Foundation in our effort to give every single person on the planet access to the free knowledge on Wikipedia.

VimpelCom’s footprint covers eighteen countries with a base of almost 210 million mobile subscribers primarily in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. We are setting out to bring Wikipedia Zero to a minimum of 100 million VimpelCom subscribers in developing countries later this year, with more to follow in 2014. Together with the 230 million customers of our existing partners, this makes Wikipedia Zero available to 330 million people.

The primary target of Wikipedia Zero is people whose primary or only access to the internet is via a mobile device, and VimpelCom’s geographies fit this definition very well. In our analysis of the twenty-five countries with the highest percentage of mobile traffic (based on a minimum of 500K Wikipedia mobile page views), VimpelCom operates in five of them (Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh). The table below shows that nine of their markets exceed the global average for mobile usage, and for those that currently don’t, free access to mobile Wikipedia will help increase that percentage significantly.

VimpelCom Emerging Markets Mobile Percentages

In seven of VimpelCom’s operating territories, Russian is the primary language for Wikipedia readership. A quick glance at the readership of Russian Wikipedia shows how fast mobile usage has risen in these countries over the last year. As of December 2012, 14.1 percent of Russian Wikipedia traffic was to the mobile site, on par with the English Wikipedia ratio of 14.6 percent. More telling of this growth is that two years ago, the Russian percentage was half that of English. It’s a testimony of the decreasing price of internet-capable mobile phones having made access to knowledge in local languages attainable for much of the world’s population. By removing data cost as a barrier, VimpelCom will make this even more of a reality.

English and Russian Mobile Wikipedia Traffic

Wikipedia Zero has already proven to accelerate mobile Wikipedia traffic within our existing partners’ networks. The marketing efforts which VimpelCom operators put behind the program will raise awareness of Wikipedia in places where it is less well known, and we hope to see similar spikes in traffic in each of these territories. We look forward to sharing the results, news, and case studies here.

See also the press release: VimpelCom partners with the Wikimedia Foundation to offer free mobile Wikipedia access through Wikipedia Zero, and the accompanying Q&A

Amit Kapoor, Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships