You may remember carrier billing from the early days of mobile phones — you bought a ringtone via text and added the cost of the purchase directly to your mobile bill.
Once we entered the mobile Internet age though, and the things you could purchase from your phone expanded dramatically, carrier billing was mostly forgotten.
Instead, there’s been a lot more focus on mobile payments startups. Venture capital firms and traditional payment players have shown more interest in software-centric payment tools, like Square and Stripe.
But now a recent report from BI Intelligence finds that carrier billing is being updated for the mobile app age. While the concept of adding charges to one’s mobile bill hasn’t changed, carrier billing technology has made some giant leaps. It now offers a smooth, low-friction way for consumers to pay for digital content like apps and tokens within apps.
That’s why it has developers, app stores and mobile carriers so excited.
But that said, there are some major hurdles if carrier billing is ever going to take off and grab share of mobile payments volume. In particular, the high prices currently charged by mobile operators for providing carrier billing services has kept many app developers away. In the report, BI Intelligence explains how carrier billing works, who is using it, and whether or not it has the potential to catch on for physical goods, beyond the world of digital content.
Here are some key points from the report:
- Though it’s often associated with emerging markets, some carrier billing companies actually make most of their money in developed markets like North America and Europe.
- But that could change. In emerging markets like India, where mobile penetration is high, but hundreds of millions of people lack credit cards or bank accounts, carrier billing has especially big potential as a way to get more people paying for apps, music, and in-app purchases on mobile devices.
In terms of numbers, we estimate carrier billing powers $US3 billion in mobile transactions, or 12% of the global market for mobile digital content.
- Mobile operators charge fees between 25% and 40% of the total cost of purchased goods. But as carriers struggle to maintain revenue, and realise they are missing out on a big opportunity in digital goods, they are beginning to compromise on their rates in hopes that they will see a higher volume of carrier billing sales.
- The holy grail for carrier billing is to reduce rates enough so that people adopt it as a method for purchasing physical goods via e-commerce sites and apps. If this happens, as it has in South Korea, the carrier billing opportunity would be truly massive, as it would begin to compete head to head with credit cards as a payment method.
In full, the report: