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More than 300 Million Users with Free Mobile Internet Access in 2020 via Upstream

10 operators offer more than 41 million hours of free browsing in emerging markets via Upstream’s free ad-funded mobile portal – up to 97% user penetration

Zero-D boosts data upselling by as much as 19% – 4.2 billion ad impressions to users who would otherwise be offline

London, March 2nd, 2021 – 314 million mobile users in eight countries enjoyed over 3.4 petabytes of free mobile data during 2020 via Upstream’s Zero-D portal. Mobile operators like Vivo in Brazil and Vodacom in South Africa, having deployed Zero-D, offered 41 million hours of browsing or 6.9 million hours of video streaming[1] to their users during a year when connectivity was crucial for people to stay informed, entertained and in touch with their loved ones.

Upstream’s ad-funded free mobile internet portal, Zero-D, was deployed by 10 mobile operators across eight emerging markets, including Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Ghana and Kenya in 2020. In 2021, Upstream expects its connectivity portal to reach over 400 million users, as it has already launched in Nigeria and is now planning to partner with the largest mobile operator in the country, as well as to further expand in Tunisia.

Zero-D is a core component of the company’s multichannel customer acquisitions and engagement platform, designed to help mobile operators keep their users connected to the internet, even when they have run out of data. This is critical in emerging markets where a lack of fixed-line infrastructure combined with high mobile data costs often leaves users digitally stranded. The portal allows users to access basic internet services such as news, email, messaging apps and government services, helping operators increase customer retention and engagement as well as upsell data packages.

In Kenya the portal ranks first among all local websites (.ke domain) and third among all websites in terms of monthly web traffic, while in South Africa it ranks second among local websites (.za domain) and twelfth among all websites. During the past year, mobile operators used the portal to ensure critical health information about the pandemic reached everybody. According to data from South Africa “health” has been ranked the top “news category” and all the top queries are related to the pandemic, for example “when will schools open?” and “What is Coronavirus?”.  The 2020 South African launch of Zero-D, branded ConnectU, is a prime example of the portal’s potential as a sustainability gateway; it offers free access to health info, news and a job search functionality and is, according to the operator, “part of their global commitment to make billions of lives better by providing vital information and services for free to all their customers”.

This has resulted in the free mobile platform scoring extremely high in terms of user engagement and satisfaction. 97% of mobile users surveyed in Kenya believe that their operator “cares more for its end-users” by providing Zero-D[2]. According to available data, Zero-D posts a very high Net Promoter Score[3], exceeding 60, whereby average NPS in telecoms ranges between 25-35.

Users across markets engage with the free portal where available. In Tunisia, a staggering 97 percent of mobile subscribers have been engaging with Zero-D. Similarly, in South Africa, more than 92 percent of the operator’s  subscribers accessed the internet via ConnectU. Mobile operators in Brazil and Tunisia reported an eight and nine percent increase in the upselling of data. In Indonesia, the partnering MNO experienced around double those rates, with 19 out of every 100 Zero-D sessions ending in a data purchase. It is noted that, in an emerging market, if 100 mobile users run out of data, only 5 of them are likely to top-up immediately.

The platform’s success with customer engagement also led to more than 4.2 billion ad impressions throughout the year, allowing Upstream’s mobile operator partners to earn advertising revenue from users that would otherwise have been offline and unable to connect. It is noted that one of the features of the portal is data rewards advertising, allowing customers to top up by watching ads, earning impressions and views for the advertisers.

Upstream Deputy CEO, Kostas Kastanis, believes that free internet access has a critical role to play in bridging the digital divide. He commented: “During a most challenging year, mobile network operators went to great lengths to keep economies and people connected. Affecting real change top operators like Vivo, and Vodacom are offering free internet access to those unable to top up keeping them connected in trying circumstances.  Doing good they are also uncovering new revenue streams that might otherwise be out of reach. We’re already planning to go live with Zero-D with a second operator in Tunisia and will be launching the service with Nigeria’s largest mobile network operator soon.”

In 2020 Upstream’s Zero-D portal won in the Customer Engagement category at the Fierce Innovation Awards – Telecom Edition. It also picked up three International Business Awards at The Stevies for Best Telecommunications Product, Service & Mobile Operations Management Solution, and was nominated at the GLOMO Awards for Best Mobile Innovation For Emerging Markets in the Tech 4 Good category.


[1] Assuming 1GB of data equals to 12 hours of web browsing or 2 hours of video watching in standard definition – Ken’s Tech Tips
[2] Upstream, Customer Survey Report, Kenya, December 2020
[3] Net Promoter Score is the percentage of customers rating their likelihood to recommend a company, a product or a service.

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