Idea Cellular starts operator billing service for Microsoft Windows phones

Idea Cellular along with Microsoft on Monday introduced operator billing for the Windows Store for Idea subscribers. With this option in place subscribers will no longer need credit cards or other electronic payment options to purchase paid content.

By Anirban Ghoshal

“This development eases a consumer’s access to premium apps on Windows Store through a convenient purchase process. We are happy to be the first operator to partner with Microsoft for Windows Store and offer our consumers the ease to download a range of local and global applications without worrying about the mode of payment,” chief marketing officer of Idea Sashi Shankar said.

The operator billing facility that is a first for a smartphone app store in India will allow Idea subscribers using Windows Phone handsets to purchase paid apps and other content from Microsoft’s Windows Store, and have the charges billed to them on postpaid plans or deducted from their balance on prepaid plans. The maximum purchase that can be made currently is Rs 300 per app. Further explaining Shankar said, “We have set the maximum threshold right now at Rs300 keeping in mind the safety of the consumer as well as to see that most apps are covered in that price range.”

While making the announcement, both the firms pegged the launch at the fact that India has only 19 million credit card customers and this limits the download capability for the users.

Further explaining the standpoint, the firms stated that “operator billing is especially useful in a country like India, where the credit card culture has not yet matured and most smartphone users are either not possessing a credit card or unwilling to use them for the purpose.”

In a separate blog post where Microsoft had put up details about operator billing in emerging markets, it said “many of us don’t think twice about making an online purchase with a credit card these days, but that isn’t true everywhere in the world. The World Bank estimates that 93% of people in emerging markets don’t have a credit which means the majority of those people cannot purchase apps from most global app stores…. We set out to meet the growing demand for apps in emerging markets by working with operators around the world to help their customers make purchases with their mobile phone account.” Microsoft has tied up with operator China Mobile in China, Claro in Brazil, and Verizon Wireless in the US to rollout operator billing for Windows phone customers on those networks. “The company has established similar deals with 81 operators in 46 markets,” a spokesperson for Microsoft said at the event.

According to a company release, the Windows Store currently offers over 550,000 apps and enjoys a 66% YoY growth in the number of titles available with 8 billion cumulative downloads to date. “We have seen that operator billing helps developers increase revenues and we have witnessed an increase of 8x per month for total paid transactions in emerging markets and 3x in developed markets,” Nikhil Mathur, director (B2B & Operator Channels), Nokia India sales a subsidiary of Microsoft Mobile, said.

Microsoft’s tie-up with Idea could be a win-win strategy for both as Idea is competing with rival Airtel and Vodafone to be attain the top dog position using its aggressive Internet package. Currently Idea has about 34 million active data users. For Microsoft which will soon roll out Windows 10 that will allow intra-devices connectivity, the tie-up will allow it to get more developers on board to develop more apps for its Windows Store and help Microsoft compete with the Play and Apple Store.

The tie-up may also usher similar partnerships with other operators soon, and pave the way for Google and Apple. Notably, neither Microsoft or Idea Cellular have detailed how the revenue sharing would occur, something that has always been the bone of contention with operator billing of app stores – how would the revenue be split between the store owner, developer, and the telecom operator.

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