Facebook has continued to push its Messenger service for mobile after it announced a deal to bring free and discounted use of its messaging apps to customers of 18 operators across 14 countries worldwide. The deal is an aggressive but industry-backed one to offer an alternative to SMS and promote mobile data services for carriers.

The company says the promotions will launch “in the coming months” and will give mobile phone owners free or discounted data to use Facebook’s Messaging apps for Android and iOS, and its Every Phone feature phone app — which now supports chat. There is, however, no confirmation on how long they will continue for. The company says that 75 percent of its active users send at least one message via the Messenger service per month, but it is aiming to increase that and grow its usage on mobile.

The list of operating taking part include:

  • Europe: TMN in Portugal, Three in Ireland, Vivacom in Bulgaria, Backcell in Azerbaydzhan, Tre in Italy
  • Asia: Airtel and Reliance in India, Indosat, Smartfren, AXIS and XL Axiata in Indonesia, SMART in Philippines, DiGi in Malaysia, DTAC in Thailand
  • Africa and Middle East: Viva in Bahrain, STC in Saudi Arabia, Etisalat in Egypt.
  • Latin America: Oi in Brazil

The news is significant for Facebook since mobile chaps apps, and services like Apple’s iMessage are increasingly becoming the most used communication services for many on smartphones. In Asia, for example, Line from Japan recently crossed 100 million downloads while China’s WeChat has 300 million registered users. These apps are rivaling Facebook for attention on mobile, and are increasingly crossing into Facebook’s territory with social network-like features.

Facebook recently added the ability to make free voice and video calls through its app in North America, but this deal is a more basic one that will help users in emerging markets use Facebook rather than SMS, and encourage greater use of data.

A number of carriers have backed services like WhatsApp, Line, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and WeChat — offering all-you-can-eat monthly deals at a fixed cost — so it makes sense that they’d back Facebook, given its colossal 1 billion plus monthly active user base.

Despite its success, it isn’t necessary clear that Facebook will succeed with Messenger since most of the competition is built for mobile, making many of its rival more advanced in terms of features. Of course, the network effect is key and Facebook’s vast reach means almost every one of its users has most of their friends on the service, making Messenger useful from the get-go — unlike many of its upstart, mobile-first rivals.

Headline image via Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images