With a keen eye for technology that could benefit users in emerging countries, Google today launched Gmail SMS, a service that will let you send and receive messages from your Gmail account via text messaging.

The service, which will initially be available in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, lets users tap into the much more ubiquitous (and reliable) voice cellular networks, instead of relying on Internet connectivity. It’ll open up Gmail to people who only have feature phones with basic voice and texting capabilities, and for others it’ll be a useful fail-safe for dealing with shoddy network infrastructure.

The service shows that there’s still plenty of life in SMS in emerging markets, even as consumers move to data-based messaging tools like iMessage and Facebook Messenger in more developed countries. There’s little overhead with SMS, since it’s a core part of most cellular networks, and it remains essential in countries that don’t have significant mobile web coverage.

After signing up for Gmail SMS, your e-mail messages will show up as text messages automatically. You can reply to e-mails directly through texts, and you can also use commands like “MORE,” “PAUSE,” and “RESUME” to control the flow of messages.

Google is offering Gmail SMS for free, though of course you’ll have to watch out for standard texting fees.


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