Another move ahead for carrier billing and making it something practical and useful for developers: the billing company Mach is announcing a wide-ranging deal that will see it offer direct carrier billing services for the four biggest mobile operators in the UK — Everything Everywhere, O2, Vodafone and Three — meaning that developers can use Mach’s platform as a one-stop shop to incorporate billing across all four without the need for individual agreements. The platform, it says, can be used both for on-device purchases such as apps, as well as mobile payments.
The announcement follows news from earlier this month, when Mach said it was providing a platform that would let Skype users bill their Skype usage directly to their mobile phone bills; and an announcement yesterday from Bango powering Facebook app purchases. Mach also works with companies like Microsoft to provide the carrier billing gateway for its app storefront.
Carrier billing — which lets users make payments for goods and services with a single “okay” without the need to enter credit card numbers or use SMS — has long been seen as a unique selling point for mobile operators that want to make more money out of their networks, particularly as voice and data services become increasingly commoditized.
It’s also a way of hedging against non-carrier-operated app stores and other content offerings from the likes of Apple, which have up to now cut operators out of the equation (although it’s a deal that many carriers have taken anyway, because a strong device like the iPhone can keep a customer loyal to a network and get users to spend lots of money on voice and data services).
But for all the promised convenience of carrier billing, in many cases it hasn’t been that easy to implement. Developers need to work with each carrier; carriers need to be on board in the first place; and there may be different technical terms to each scenario. The promise of aggregating platforms like Mach is that they cut all that out and simplify it — much as the way that iTunes does across the App Store, no matter what country you live in (although even Apple has had some stumbling blocks on that front. It only incorporated iTunes billing in China earlier this year).
Mach says that today’s deal will see it offering Payforit Version 4 support, which covers Vodafone, Everything Everywhere and Three; and it is working with O2 on its new Charge to Mobile platform. This is not an exclusive deal as far as we can tell — there may be other carrier billing companies coming along to offer the same services, something hinted by O2:
“As one of the first trusted partners for our new Charge to Mobile platform, MACH is helping us to open up the app economy for online services to our consumers,” said Danny Barclay, head of interactive sales at O2, in a statement. “MACH’s heritage in delivering frictionless payments for major application stores and merchants, such as Microsoft made them an ideal partner. There is little doubting that apps and online content that can be charged direct to your bill represents an important revenue stream for us and our partners and a safe and secure mechanism for our consumers to access rich apps and content.”