The carrier billing segment is heating up: Boku a carrier billing and cross-platform mobile payments company has acquired Qubecell, and with it, bought access to direct carrier billing from four different telecom operators in India, and a base of merchants who have integrated telecom operator billing. The price being paid for acquisition has not been disclosed. What’s interesting here is that Boku already has partnerships with Airtel, Loop Mobile, MTNL and Uninor in India, but of these, only Airtel has a substantive, monetizable base. In fact, Boku used to power Facebook’s mobile payments in India, but that didn’t last.
It’s not clear how many merchants or which carriers Qubecell has partnered with: it’s website has little or no information, but the Boku PR on this acqusition says that it will now have access to more than 75% of the country’s mobile subscribers, roughly 550 million users.
Qubecell employees and its Founder and CEO Ranjan Reddy will join Boku. What’s particularly interesting here is that Reddy was previously the Country Manager for Neomobile, which recently announced inking two carrier billing partnerships in India. Estonian carrier billing company Fortumo also recently launched in India.
Boku is backed by Silicon Valley VC’s like Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, NEA and Khosla Ventures, while Qubecell had raised a seed funding round from Kae Capital, Blume Ventures, Mumbai Angels and Russian investor TA Ventures. Qubecell, founded in 2012, claims to be the largest direct carrier billing platform in India.
Boku has telecom billing tie-ups in 70 different countries with over 270 telecom operators, and its Chief Business Officer, Jon Prideaux, says that India will be its regional hub for merchants across Asia, the Middle East and Australia.
Balu adds: It needs to be noted that mobile carriers were taking a 25-50% cut from transactions done via Boku in 2009, but it’s not clear how much the operator charges for this service now. Internationally mobile carriers charge much lower fees for transactions via Boku and for such a service to pick up here, operators need to bring down their rates. It’s also not clear what deal Qubecell had made with operators here. The operators charge competing service Fortumo 40-60% per transaction, with the service charges 2-3% transaction fee additionally. With all major e-commerce sites and even IRCTC using mobile wallets and Aadhar-based SMS IMPS payments in the pipeline, the operators might be killing the goose that lays the golden egg without giving it even a fighting chance.