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Facebook Launches Telco Billing In India With Airtel, Loop, Uninor


In a move to monetize its mobile usage, Facebook appears to have launched telecom operator billing in India, in partnership with Airtel, Loop and Uninor. The social networking giant today announced a simplified two step carrier billing process with a majority of the carriers in the US and the UK, saying that it will roll out this process to other telcos globally.

While we’re not sure if this tie-up with Airtel, Loop and Uninor is new, we haven’t noticed it before. We tried buying facebook credits via  Airtel, and here’s how it went:

Buying Facebook Credits On Airtel

– We tried buying Farmville Cash and noticed a ‘Buy with Mobile’ option

– We selected a package

– Got a confirmation prompt with my default phone number selected as a payment option.

– Another prompt to verify or re-enter the mobile number.

– We were asked to send an SMS to Zong’s code

– We received the confirmatory message on our phone after sending the SMS.

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Facebook says that it has simplified the process now: down to two from what used to be seven steps, including SMS verification, which we’ve illustrated above.

Telco Billing: Opportunities & Challenges

Note that in India, credit and debit card payments require a second factor of authentication, which is the 3D secure method online, and the incredibly unreliable and painful OTP (One Time Password) method on mobile. This barrier to buying can be overcome with telecom operator billing, but it usually comes with its own issues – most telcos prefer to take a really high transaction charge for payments through their gateways. We wonder what kind of a deal Facebook has managed, and also how soon it gets paid when a customer buys. Most of India’s mobile customers are prepaid, so there is money that is already in their wallets (i.e. prepaid accounts).

Also interesting to note that Vodafone isn’t in this list yet. We’ve heard from many many people in VAS that Vodafone is now offering a 70:30 revenue share. Among the three telcos that Facebook has on board, Airtel is the key one: it is the largest telecom operator is the country, leading with both the most number of connections, and the number of active connections. Uninor and Loop are much much smaller, and Facebook should look to tie up with Vodafone, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications in particular.

If you ask us, we would prefer that Facebook continue with the process of asking customers to verify their transaction via SMS. It might be more cumbersome and lead to some transactions not being completed, but that is better than a situation where telecom operators defraud customers by debiting their balance without their consent. This kind of a scam has been going on for a while in VAS, especially with subscription services and in case of purchases of games and wallpapers.

What Happens To MOL?

Last year, Facebook had tied up with MOL for the purchase of Facebook Credits, through scratch cards. Undoubtedly, telecom operator billing is easier and more impulse driven, and we wonder what will happen to MOL now.

(with inputs from Anupam Saxena)

  • Anonymous

    RBI restricts charging of customers balance for any service which is not consumed on Mobile. In case the above mentioned purchase was done from Computer and charges deducted through Mobile, then their might be some clarifications required from RBI. Below is the draft guideline from RBI policy on usage of Prepaid balance.

    “Mobile Prepaid value: Mobile Service Providers are permitted to issue mobile prepaid value. In addition to talk-value the use of such prepaid value as a payment instrument shall be restricted to the purchase of only such value added digital contents/services which are for use on the mobile phones. The use of mobile prepaid value for purchase of other goods and services shall not be permitted.”

    • http://www.medianama.com Nikhil Pahwa

      would you have a link to the draft regulation? I couldn’t locate it.

      • Anonymous

        Search it by “Draft Guidelines for issuance and operation of Prepaid Payment Instruments in India” on Google. You will get all the details.

  • Raju

    The title should have been Facebook partners with Zong for opertaor billing :) , Even medianama can use Zong /Boku and Inmobi smartpay for operator billing ( I am not sure about the Indian coverage of Boku and Inmobi ).

  • Naushad

    How is the approximate 15% telecom (DOT) license fees taken care of in this one?