In 2003 Europe’s mobile operators launched Simpay, promising to let us buy flowers and concert tickets across Europe, with the price added to our mobile phone bill. By 2005 that had morphed into PayForIt, for UK operators only but with similar aspirations, and a similar lack of success. A decade later, mobile network operators are still being cut out of the payment loop, but not for lack of trying.
Operator billing should be the perfect m-commerce platform: Mobile operators store prepaid credit for 77% of their customers, according to the GSMA, and have credit agreements with the other 23%. They have experience dealing with critical systems, and real-time credit checking systems built to take huge loading, so they should be the obvious winners in the m-commerce business. As then-CEO of Vodafone Arun Sarin told the FT in 2007:
“The simple fact that we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us … Whoever comes into the marketplace is going to have to work through us.”
Only they didn’t, and they don’t, and these days operator billing is a minority pastime everywhere – except Africa and the Middle East.
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