Mark Zuckerberg has emphasised the importance of partnerships in Facebook’s initiative to get the world online, while also using his time onstage at MWC to play down tensions with mobile operators. 

Facebook founder Zuckerberg said the success of the company’s Internet.org campaign, which aims to bring the internet to the two-thirds of the world currently without it, depended on working with mobile operators to target specific needs for different markets.

As an example, Zuckerberg pointed to the importance of growing health-focused services in Africa, saying: “If it works, it grows the internet, and it grows the business we do with partners.”

Zuckerberg also played down Facebook’s involvement in some of its more outlandish experiments with drones and lasers, saying: “People like talking about that stuff because it’s sexy, but that’s not the main bit.

“The bigger deal is that there are a lot of people who haven’t grown up with the internet…we need to give people a reason to use it.”

[Read more: Facebook targets free space optical tech to connect the unconnected]

When is was suggested that mobile operators still viewed Facebook and WhatsApp as a “fundamental challenge” to business models, Zuckerberg offered that Facebook could help drive operator revenues through usage, expressing that Internet.org was too often conflated with the social media site.

However, Millicom’s Mario Zanetti said that the “touchy subject” of apps remained a point of tension between operators and Facebook, as revenue streams were moved away from operators too quickly. He said: “Everything becomes data these days - that is where the problem comes from.”

Christian De Faria, CEO of Airtel Africa, agreed that managing partnerships with Facebook was a “balancing act”. Even so, he admitted that working with the company had had a positive effect on the company’s bottom line as customers were granted access to the internet for the first time.

He said: “Using [Internet.org], we have not seen an adverse effect - consumers are consuming more data.”

While Telenor CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas said the telco shared “a lot of the same views” as Facebook, he suggested that Facebook would need to stay true to its word if it wanted to see its Internet.org ambitions play out.

He said: “We like working with Facebook because we share a lot of the same views, in that what works for the consumer works for us.

“Facebook isn’t solving everything, but once you get through to it you’re opening up a whole new world.”

Zuckerberg's comments last night follow those of Google Product chief Sundar Pichai, who said that “no one company” would be able to accomplish Facebook’s targets for Internet.org

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