It’s taken ages but Vodafone India has finally launched its mobile money transfer and payment service ‘M-Pesa’ in India. The telco has signed a strategic alliance with ICICI Bank to extend the service to the country.

Availability: While the financial details of the deal were not disclosed, Vodafone stated that it will be offering this service through its wholly owned subsidiary Mobile Commerce Solutions Ltd (MCSL) and the company intends to launch the service this year. The service will be initially launched in the eastern region including West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand among others, followed by a phased rollout in other parts of the country. There is currently no specific timeline for the service launch or any information on how one can register for the service.

Offerings: As per the deal, Vodafone will be offering its customers a mobile money account with ICICI Bank and a mobile wallet issued by MCSL, through this service. The company noted that this service will allow customers to make cash deposits and withdrawals from designated outlets as well as make cash transfers to any mobile phone or any bank account in the country. The company claims to have a huge network of authorized agents who will enable customers to deposit and withdraw cash from their account, in a bid to offer last mile access to its customers in remote areas.

Additionally, Vodafone noted that the service will also allow customers to shop at select merchant outlets and pay for various mobile services like mobile recharge, DTH recharge, and utility bill payments among others.

In its 2012 annual report, Vodafone had claimed to have more than 14 million customers active m-Pesa customers across six developing countries including Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Afghanistan, Qatar and Fiji. The company had also claimed that customers had transferred up to £600 million per month through the service.

M-Pesa Roadblock: In March 2007, Vodafone had signed a global tie-up with Citibank for mobile remittance services and had announced its intentions to launch m-Pesa service in Eastern European and Asian markets, such as Poland and India, after a successful pilot in Kenya. However in Feb 2009, Vodafone’s attempts to extend m-Pesa service in the country had hit a roadblock, after the operator claimed that the regulators had insisted on partnering with a licensed bank to launch the service in India.

ICICI Bank Partnership: In January 2011, Vodafone India (erstwhile Vodafone Essar) had inked a partnership with ICICI Bank to offer financial services through mobile phones, following which Vodafone had become a banking correspondent for ICICI Bank and was planning to offer various financial products such as savings accounts, pre-paid instruments and credit products to its customers. It was then indicated that this partnership will allow Vodafone to launch M-Pesa service in the country, although it has taken almost two years for the operator to finally roll out the service in the country.

HDFC Bank Partnership? In November 2011, Vodafone had also inked a deal with HDFC Bank allowing them to work as a business correspondent for the bank and launch a similar m-Paisa service. At launch, the service was available only in Rajasthan but Vodafone had noted (pdf) in its 2012 annual report that it intends to roll out the service pan-India this year.

Interestingly, the company had mentioned this service as m-Pesa in its report, although the service was a bank-linked initiative and didn’t offer a prepaid wallet based payment system, as we had pointed out before.