Ahead of Nokia and Microsoft’s big event in New York today, where they will formally announce new Nokia/Windows Phone devices, Microsoft is making a little pre-show appearance in the form of Skype, the once-upstart Internet voice calling company that it now owns. Starting in October, users will be able to buy Skype Credits by billing them directly to their mobile carriers.
The move is a sign of how Skype is getting even more integrated into the telco establishment — which was once so threatened by the company that some mobile carriers even barred use of Skype on their networks. That has seen a big thaw in more recent times, with Skype working with operators like Verizon in the U.S. and Three in the UK. It’s not clear yet whether this Skype news will figure in Nokia and Microsoft’s announcements later today, but given that we are likely to see a lot more Skype integration into the Windows Phone system from here on out, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, even if indirectly.
The carrier billing is being enabled by Mach, which already had a pre-existing deal with Microsoft to provide carrier billing services for apps in the Windows Marketplace. That was first announced back in January and covers carriers including Telus in Canada and Telstra in Australia. (And who knows, perhaps today we’ll hear about that relationship extending to a carrier or two in the U.S. as well.)
Mach has some 650 operator customers using its billing gateway services worldwide. For Skype, it means potentially more mobile users of its services — since it will be a little more seamless for them to add calling credit to their accounts when using it on handsets.
“Delivering a strong user-experience has been at the heart of Skype’s adoption by millions of users globally, and we want to extend this philosophy to the payment options we provide,” said Neil Ward, General Manager, Business Operations, Skype Division – Microsoft, in a statement. “We expect ease of payment to attract new users, while existing users will become more profitable customers as they increase their spend with us.”
While companies like Apple have largely cut carriers out of the equation when it comes to making money from apps — carriers collect money from data usage but little else on iOS — carriers have been hoping to turn that situation around through services like carrier billing, which lets users charge payments for apps and in-app purchases directly to their phone bills.
According to recent data from carrier billing company mopay, the most popular types of mobile content that get billed through carriers are in the areas of gaming and dating, with the general trend being that the easier it is to pay for something on the phone, the more likely people are to do it.
That’s a business model that Skype is clearly hoping will help it drive up more revenue in its own service, too.