The relationship between telecommunications carriers and messaging apps such as Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger is "symbiotic," not hostile, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg told a packed audience at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in a talk that ranged across subjects from providing connectivity to the world's poor to controversies over encryption.
While Facebook's billionaire founder acknowledged that "there might be tension in any relationship," he sees the interaction between telecommunications networks and messaging platforms as complementary. He said greater use of messaging services, especially to send photos and video, means more traffic — and more revenue — for telecom networks.
Telecom carriers simply need to shift to business models that make money from data transmission instead of voice or text messages, Zuckerberg said, adding that many networks have already made the adjustment.
Facebook needs mobile phone data networks to work better and faster as it builds products for live-streaming video and virtual reality. So it's asking telecom companies to partner and share designs, in an initiative that could accelerate the spread of 5G connectivity.
Zuckerberg also said he didn't believe that messaging apps should be regulated by government in the same way traditional network operators are because the telecom carriers build infrastructure, from fiber optics to cellular towers, and Facebook doesn't. He also said Facebook favored governments giving telecom providers the freedom to build out 5G capacity.
Expanding on a statement Facebook issued last week backing Apple Inc. in its fight to resist a court order to help the government break the encryption on an iPhone used in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., Zuckerberg said he was sympathetic with Apple's position.
"I don't think that requiring backdoors into encryption will be an effective way to do security," he said.
During his talk, the CEO also expressed disappointment in India's decision to block Facebook's Free Basics service, which provided free, limited Internet access.
"It is a major setback for India," he said.
Zuckerberg said his company and the Internet.org coalition of tech companies founded by Facebook would continue to try to find other ways to bring online the estimated 1 billion people in India who lack consistent Internet connectivity.
"Facebook doesn't hit a roadblock and just give up," he said.
Internet.org is testing a solar-powered drone that would use a laser-based transmission technology to bring Internet connectivity to some of the most inaccessible parts of the planet.
Zuckerberg also expressed excitement about the way virtual reality video will transform social networking. He said 1 million people were already sharing 360-degree video on Facebook each day and that this number would only grow.
Describing the transition to video-based sharing and communication as a shift every bit as profound and potentially difficult to navigate for social networking companies as the evolution from desktop to mobile that occurred four years ago, Zuckerberg said he was pushing Facebook to get ahead of this trend. The company acquired Oculus, the virtual reality headset manufacturer, in 2014 for $2 billion and Oculus is planning to debut a new Rift headset later this year.
Zuckerberg said he didn't want Facebook to bungle the transition to virtual reality and video sharing the way it struggled to make the transition to mobile social networking.