Update: Google has confirmed to MediaNama that this carrier billing integration is only for postpaid services, and not for prepaid. Thanks for flagging this Prasanto.
Yesterday: It has been a long time coming, but Google has finally launched carrier billing with Airtel and Vodafone, two of India’s largest telecom operators. This is in additional to Idea Cellular, which means that Google Play carrier billing will be available to 186.26 million Internet connections among these three. Add Reliance Jio to this mix – it isn’t there – and you have approximately 240 million connections that now have an option to pay for online content with their mobile balance or bill.
The Airtel integration (we tried) is buggy: while the option of carrier billing is available to users, Google Play isn’t able to verify user telecom operator accounts to initiate and authenticate the payment…the irony of a telecom operator not being able to initiate a confirmation SMS. It’s not clear as to how the revenue share relationship between the two carriers and the Play Store works, but there is a detailed overview of the Idea Cellular – Google Play Store relationship here.
1. Better late than never: It’s shameful that it has taken the telecom industry this long to enable this: they have been, unfortunately, blind-sided by the ambition of being content providers, and competing with the open Internet, which we’ve seen in Jio’s launch of apps and services, and Airtel’s attempt at music and video services. The only competitive advantage for them in this is a violation of Net Neutrality, which is enabled by a vertical integration. While they are no longer able to charge differentially for their own services versus others, there is a possibility that they may try to exploit the CECN loophole (explained here), or the newly created databack loophole (explained here). Anyway, it’s worth keeping in mind that discussions for carrier billing between Google and Airtel started as far back as 2012.
2. No wallet integration: The ease of making a payment was why it was essential for Google Play to sign up with telecom operators in 2012: not everyone has a credit card, most people use debit cards only for ATM withdrawals, and the second factor of authentication adds friction while completing the payment. It’s surprising that given the growth in the wallets business over the last three years – especially in the last year – Google Play Store still hasn’t tied up with any wallet company. Wallet companies have millions of users too. We wonder if Google still harbors hope of launching Android Pay in India, and this is a competitive move from them.