Google has rolled out a new service in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya that lets Gmail users send and receive emails using the built-in SMS features of their mobile phones.

The implications of this are pretty big, as it means mobile Internet access isn’t required, and users don’t need a new-fangled smartphone with 3G or WiFi capabilities either. For emerging markets, where iPhone and Android uptake may not be what it is in the Western world, not to mention limited Web access, Gmail SMS (available locally) is an interesting launch.

As long as you have a basic mobile phone with voice and SMS capability in these three African countries, you’ll now be able to do all your emailing by text message through activating a simple setting on your Gmail account.

How it works

“Gmail SMS automatically forwards your emails as SMS text messages to your phone and you can respond by replying directly to the SMS,” says Geva Rechav, Product Manager of Emerging Markets at Google. “You can control the emails received by replying with commands such as MORE, PAUSE and RESUME. Additionally, compose a new email as an SMS and send to any email address recipient – who will find your message in the right email conversation thread.”

So, how do you set yourself up with Gmail SMS?

First of all, you’ll need to log-in to your Gmail account, and click on your profile at the top of the page and then hit Account.
a16 520x208 Google launches Gmail SMS, letting users in Africa send and receive emails by text messageNext, you’ll have to access your settings in the “Phone and SMS” section:

b9 520x132 Google launches Gmail SMS, letting users in Africa send and receive emails by text message
You will then have to link your mobile phone number to your account to be able to send and receive emails from your handset:

c6 520x382 Google launches Gmail SMS, letting users in Africa send and receive emails by text message
When you click to send a verification code to your mobile phone, you then enter that number you receive into the box on the set-up page.

While the Gmail SMS service itself is free, you will of course still be charged whatever your local SMS rates are.

It’s not yet clear if it plans to open up this service to the rest of the world, but it seems that it likely will make this available in other key emerging markets across Africa and Asia, with Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya the test-beds for this initial launch.

We’ve contacted Google for further comment here, and to establish what its longer term plans are for Gmail SMS.