Direct carrier billing is gaining in popularity as a way to make payments on and, increasingly, off a smartphone.
Google gave the payment method a push last week when it announced that it would expand direct carrier billing to more countries and make it a payment option on tablets. This brings Android tablets in line with Android smartphones in allowing users to charge purchases to their phone bills.
"Consistency in user experience is very important," says Brahim Elbouchikhi, product manager for Google Play. "The other aspect is if [direct carrier billing] was your only form of payment in the past, you couldn't make payments on the tablet at all."
Google joins a growing number of companies that support carrier billing for purchases that have little to do with the user's smartphone. Sony supports the payment option for digital media sold on its PlayStation video game consoles, and Sunhill Technologies supports carrier billing for payments made through its app for parking garages.
Google revealed its plans for direct carrier billing at Google I/O, its conference for developers. During the same keynote address, Google also discussed some of the payment capabilities of its new Android Wear smartwatch platform.
Under Google's model for tablets, users must still sign up for direct carrier billing on a smartphone. Once the carrier verifies the account, the payment option will show up on a tablet connected to that account as well.
Google now supports direct carrier billing in 25 countries including Japan and Korea, says Elbouchikhi. These countries support the payment method for offline purchases in convenience stores as well.
The United Arab Emirates is the latest country to receive support for direct carrier billing from Google, Elbouchikhi says. Other markets that are growing rapidly include India, Russia and Brazil, he says.
"We spent last year expanding payment methods in general in other countries," says Elbouchikhi.
Direct carrier billing "is available to almost half our total active users," he adds. "In the future, I expect over the next few months the percentage of users with access will increase; it will be driven by markets where [mobile carrier billing] is already strong."
In the U.S., Google is not expanding the payment method outside of digital content, Elbouchikhi says.
One in five U.S. consumers with non-iOS devices use direct carrier billing for the purchase of apps, according to Yankee Group research.
"Direct operator billing adds considerable value to the overall purchase process by eliminating friction and streamlining the checkout to a single click. Its seamless nature results in ease of use and satisfaction for the end-user," according to the report. For example, with the Bango Payment Platform for direct carrier billing, Bango partners see a 77% average conversion rate.
"Initially [businesses] thought direct carrier billing would have more takeover among populations that don't have access to credit cards, like teenagers or people in South America," says Ricardo Varela, a London-based entrepreneur who spent several years in the payments industry. "But even in markets with quite a bit of [card] penetration, like Germany or the Nordics, a lot of people are using this to pay."
One of the things that holds direct carrier billing back as a payment method is the operators trying to get in the middle of companies and their customers, Varela says. "The people [Google] is billing are the operator's subscribers, but Google's customers, so act accordingly no logos, no personalized screens, no silly terms and conditions, just standard payment like if the customer was using a credit card."