Google has finally launched the carrier Play Store billing for both Airtel and Vodafone in India. Until now, Google offered carrier billing integration only with Idea cellular. With Airtel and Vodafone onboard, it will have access to a majority of smartphone users in India. The carrier billing will allow mobile users to use their Prepaid balance or get billed on Postpaid connections for purchasing on Google Play store. Previously, one had to compulsorily link their debit cards to initiate a purchase and this is something that not many of the Indian users were well acquainted with.
It is baffling on why this integration took so long especially after considering the fact that a staggering 90% of the smartphone user in India are on board Android. On the other hand, telcos have been trying their hands at being a content provider right from the very beginning and it seems like that is one avenue they still want to have control on. As MediaNama rightly pointed out, telcos including Airtel and Reliance have been trying to circumvent the TRAI ruling that prevents then from charging differential pricing by setting up their own intranet services like the Airtel music apps and the Jio’s slew of apps.
Furthermore, until now Google is yet to partner with third party payment systems including PayTM and Freecharge which are extremely popular in India and might spur the sales for the Google Play Store. In all likelihood, Google is apparently betting high on Android Pay as a result of which they are perhaps refraining from joining hands with the competition in any form, even if it means increased Play Store transactions. Also, it needs to be mentioned here that I was not able to transact using Airtel on Google Play Store as of now since the carrier failed in sending “account verification SMS.”
Carrier billing has often been a vertical revenue channel for operators to recoup the losses that they are facing due to the decrease in voice sales. Usually, when any item is sold on the app store the revenue is shared between the developer and the service provider but in a case of carrier billing, the wireless carriers will get to have a chunk of the revenue by facilitating the payment. However, in India, the very concept of paying for apps, games, and other digital consumables is still evolving. It will take some time for software to evolve as a paid commodity in India and until then it is Android who has to ensure that they offer the best of the payment channels including carrier billing.