Google has reportedly started rolling out direct carrier billing for Play Store purchases to Airtel and Vodafone subscribers in India. The new option is expected to allow millions of Android users in the world’s third-largest smartphone market to buy apps, games, digital media and e-books from the Google Play Store and have those charges billed directly by their carriers, eliminating the need to pay via credit cards or netbanking in a country where people are still largely apprehensive about online financial transactions. The option, however, is apparently only available for postpaid users right now, although some reports suggest that prepaid users on these two carriers will also be able to pay for Play Store purchases from their prepaid balance in the near future. Which is just as well, given that prepaid users form the vast majority of the mobile user-base in the country.
The fact that Google will bring direct carrier billing to Airtel, Vodafone and Idea was originally announced at the Google Playtime event in New Delhi last October. The option has already been available for Idea customers for a while now, although it is yet to take off in any meaningful way so far. One of the main reasons that can be attributed to the relatively lukewarm response to the rollout is that Idea does not have either the scale or the scope of larger and more popular carriers, such as Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL and Reliance. With Airtel and Vodafone onboard, Google will now hope to have access to the majority of smartphone users in India, but only as long as it can work out some sort of a deal with the carriers that will allow prepaid users to pay for their purchases from their account balance.
While direct carrier billing is certainly a step in the right direction for all concerned, reports indicate that the system is still a work in progress for the most part. First off, Google’s support page still lists Idea as the only direct-billing carrier in India, so there’s no telling when the support for Airtel and Vodafone will be officially switched-on going forward. Secondly, many online commentators are claiming that the carrier billing integration for the two new networks is extremely buggy. According to some, Google Play is failing to verify user accounts to authenticate the payments because of the carriers’ inability to initiate any confirmation SMS. Either way, once Airtel and Vodafone iron out the niggling issues, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for Google to strike deals with other large carriers, such as BSNL and Reliance Jio.