Wikipedia Zero, a project launched by the Wikimedia Foundation to offer free mobile access to Wikipedia in emerging countries, has officially arrived in India via a partnership with Aircel, India’s seventh largest mobile network operator (including GSM and CDMA).

Even with a market share of only around 7%, given that India is among the world’s most populous country with more than a billion people, this still represents more than 60 million Aircel subscribers which is sizable extension to the Wikipedia Zero initiative.

“It is our mission to provide free access to knowledge for everyone in the world,” says Amit Kapoor Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships, at the Wikimedia Foundation. “It’s only fitting then that today we announced our first Wikipedia Zero partnership launch in India, the world’s second most populous country.”

It’s worth noting here that the program doesn’t extend to the native Wikipedia mobile apps. It only applies to the mobile Web version available at m.wikipedia.org, or zero.wikipedia.org which is a speedier text-only version of the site. So from today, anyone on Aircel visiting a Wikipedia page via those URLs won’t receive any data charges.

This isn’t the project’s first foray into Asia though. Last year, Wikipedia Zero landed in Malaysia, its third territory after Uganda and Tunisia . Then in October, it arrived in Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, followed by Pakistan in May 2013 and Sri Lanka the following month. Wikipedia Zero has been made available in 17 territories globally.

Half-a-billion

Today’s news means that almost half-a-billion people worldwide now have access to free Wikipedia on their mobile phones. And as we reported earlier this year, developing countries are driving the uptake of Wikipedia with 14.5% of all Wikipedia page views now arriving via mobile. Wikipedia Zero will be playing a large part in this.

“The challenge in enabling knowledge access in India is not just about distribution and cost, though; it’s also about language,” says Kapoor.

“India has no national language, but there are 22 recognized official languages in the country,” he continues. “Many Indians are not only accessing the internet for the first time on mobile, but also non-English content is becoming accessible for the first time via mobile.

“Hindi Wikipedia, for example, currently has 22.1% of page views globally coming from mobile compared to 17.3% for all other languages. We hope to further catalyze this transformation as Wikipedia users on Aircel can access English, Hindi, Tamil or any of the other 17 Indic language Wikipedias without being charged data fees.”