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Hot markets: carrier billing and beyond takes off globally

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Carrier billing is rapidly gaining attention from consumers and businesses alike. While PSD2 is poised to give it a boost in Europe, there are many other regions where it is already well established. Paul Skeldon takes a look at where its going to be big next.

According to Gil Regev, Chief Communications Officer at RGK Mobile: “At the moment, Western Europe is really starting to open, as far as content and VAS. We attribute this to recent regulations in the EU, main one being free roaming. Other regions that we are seeing great growth in are MENA and APAC, both experiencing a great adoption of smartphones and an improved infrastructure, which allows for more sophisticated types of content and smooth video streaming.”

So let’s take a look at some of the hot new regions.

RUSSIA AND WEST ASIA

Russia has long been a rich source of carrier billing and VAS, but it has also seen some dealings that have been a cause for concern. Now the authorities are tightening things up and operators are seeking high-quality content and putting heavy barriers in place, guaranteeing highly-qualified content and preventing fraud.

“Most noticeably now, we are seeing a high demand for education and utility services,” says RGK’s Regev. “Despite new regulations, we are seeing a tremendous growth in the market, with an ever-increasing smartphone penetration of 54.7%, and  close to 80,000,000 subscribers. Local mobile tariff plans now allow for unlimited usage of data  (3G and LTE), which makes DCB 10click flow an even more attractive proposition for local carriers.”

But countries around Russia are also proving to be interesting. Mitel in Bulgaria has teamed up with Amdocs to roll out better subscriber care as it ramps up its VAS services and RGK itself is has announced a new direct mobile operator billing agreement with BITE, a telecommunications company serving subscribers in Lithuania and Latvia.

Meanwhile, Veoo continues its global expansion with the launch of a presence in the Ukraine, driven by growing demand for competitions and SMS.

Veoo’s presence in the Ukraine is interesting as now enables clients to easily launch services in what is an extremely lucrative territory by providing a unique complete package, including 24/7 customer care, all local translations, regulatory and compliance support adhering to industry standards, allowing customers to focus on their own ‘in country’ marketing and content campaigns.

AFRICA

Africa is seen by many as the next great mobile honeypot, with the number of mobile broadband connections on the continent set to more than double over the coming five years, and rise from 419 million at end-2017, to 1.07 billion at end-2022, according to Ovum’s new Forecaster data service.

South Africa is one of the most lucrative markets, with research by Effective Measures showing at least 68% of all South African generations last accessed the internet yesterday, at least 15% those surveyed use their phones hourly, and over 40% of respondents access the internet for over five hours a day on average.

According to Basebone’s James McNab, South Africa is a good starting place on the continent as it is more developed and more westernised. The services are pretty much what you would sell in Europe to smartphone users. There the company is running many services and has interconnects with major operators.

In this vein, txtnation has become one of the first to offer carrier billing services in South Africa. The company says that all services are allowed – although adult must be glamour – and if doing quizzes there must be a skill based element and/or subscription to gain WASPA approval, which can take up to two weeks.

While South Africa is on the up, the rest of Africa is also proving to be of great interest and seeing some huge developments. Nigeria and Kenya are targets for Basebone, which has just done deals with local regulators and operators to run services in both countries.

“Interestingly, these markets are going for things that were popular in Europe in 2002: ringtones and wallpapers,” says Basebone’s McNab. “They haven’t got the crazy frog yet, but its coming. That said, feature phones and smartphones are penetrating rapidly and so there is a growth in video on demand and funny clips.”

Elsewhere, international mobile payment service provider, Tola Mobile, has expanded in Africa, now processing 15 million monthly transactions across the continent with its Tola.wallet platform.

Tola Mobile is also seeing continued growth across West and East Africa with new offices in Uganda, Ghana and Tanzania. The firm has already launched integrations with two sports brands in Tanzania – Mkekabet and Sokabet, as well as online gambling platforms in both Uganda, Ghana and Mozambique.

Shane Leahy, CEO of Tola Mobile, comments: “The mobile payment ecosystem has grown significantly within the African market as consumers and merchants look for faster and more resilient ways to make and receive payments. Given the exponential growth of the marketplace, we anticipate that Tola Mobile will be processing one million daily transactions in the region within the next 12 months.”

Across the continent of Africa there is one service that is very popular and from which subscribers rarely leave: God. “God is big in Africa and services ‘from’ God are very popular,” says McNab. “And no one unsubscibes.” Well, you wouldn’t, would you? No one unsubscribes from God.

MIDDLE EAST

The Middle East has been a tough market to crack, being often quite strict about content. However, a number of key services have opened up there that have embraced carrier billing.

Google Play has become a key player in rolling out carrier billing in many markets (as we shall see!) – most notably in Kuwait, where mobile operator Viva Kuwait has added carrier billing to Google Play through Bango.

Kuwaiti customers will enjoy the enhanced performance delivered through the Bango Platform, while developers selling through the Google Play store in Kuwait will see increased sales from Viva customers through the Bango Boost program.

Bango is also behind offering carrier billing to three of the main network operators in Egypt, enabling millions of consumers in Egypt to buy from their favorite app stores, charging the cost to their pre or post-paid mobile phone bill.

Network operators are also looking at how to open up the Middle East, with Virgin Mobile and its MVNO model being one of the first. Virgin Mobile Saudi Consortium, the Saudi Arabian subsidiary company of Virgin Mobile Middle East & Africa, is now serving over a million customers in Saudi Arabia.

INDIA AND ASIA

India is starting to become a market that everyone with carrier billing offerings is interested in. Not only has global digital content subscription services and mobile payment aggregation provider, RGK Mobile, tied up with Airtel to provide its direct billing services in India, but likes of Bango are also getting heavily involved too as carrier billing starts to enter the mainstream.

RGK Mobile and Airtel will be offering premium services that free the mobile operator from the burden of generating and managing mobile content, including technical integration, local content licensing, and traffic acquisition.

Bango meanwhile, is to provide resale and bundling technology to Amazon, enabling customers to sign-up to Amazon Prime in India through resellers that offer product bundles. It is also offering carrier billing for Google Play in India to Idea Cellular customers.

Bango has form with Amazon. In Japan, Amazon customers with an NTT DOCOMO or KDDI (au) mobile phone account can now pay for the Amazon Prime membership fee, either monthly or annually by charging the cost to their mobile phone bill. At the same time, students in Japan can now use this new payment method to pay for their annual membership fees to the Prime Student programme.

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Editor and content creator for Telemedia – for 18 years and counting

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