Customers of Malaysian mobile operator DiGi can now use Gmail to send free SMSes to friends after the carrier teamed up with Google to bring the service to the country.

DiGi, whose 8.8 million users account for 24 percent of country’s mobile market, has become the first Malaysia operator to provide the Gmail SMS service which is part of the search giant’s “Internet For All” initiative which is aimed at opening the Internet to more people.

Gmail SMS allows users to send free text messages directly to friends and family locally or overseas without their phone but it is not a one-way conversation. Responses to messages are also logged and appear as replies in the Google Chat bar within Gmail, while contact phone numbers can be stored in Gmail’s address book.

The deal also allows DiGI customers to use Gmail chat direct from their mobile, with all types of device supported. DiGi subscribers can take advantage of Gmail chat on their phone for the cost of a regular SMS, RM0.10 ($0.03) per message.

Google provides a four-step method to enable Gmail via SMS online:

  • From Gmail, click on Settings, and go to the Labs tab
  • Scroll down until you see “Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat” and select Enable
  • Also enable the “SMS in Chat gadget” and then Save Changes
  • You can send free texts to your friends in the US and many countries around the world

Full details of the Gmail SMS feature can be found on the dedicated webpage here.

Commenting on the potential of the feature of users in Asia, a Google spokesperson told The Next Web:

The feature is available in a large number of countries across Southeast Asia as part of our emerging markets initiative to give more people access to technology regardless of what device they have in their hands or the infrastructure in place in their country.

Gmail is a good example of web-based development. Because Gmail lives “in the cloud” as a web-based application, Gmail is accessible from anywhere and from many sort of phones.

Google recently introduced the feature in Thailand – in collaboration with operators True and Dtac — in a move to help improve communications for victims of floods that have hit the country over the last 6 weeks.

Elsewhere in Asia, Gmail SMS is already active with selected operators across a number of other markets, including: Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Vietnam.