I have a long been a huge, huge enthusiastic fan of Telefonica’s BlueVia. You only need to do a search here on Mobile Industry Review for the keyword ‘BlueVia’ to find out just how much of a fan.
BlueVia sought to provide a series of APIs directly into it’s own network to enable developers to do almost anything they wanted. Perhaps the most notable API offerings in my mind was location — the ability to remotely query a customer’s location using the cell tower. Operators had hitherto made location one of those ridiculously difficult aspects for developers to use, either because the function simply wasn’t available or because the total idiots running the network wanted something like £0.10 for every location lookup. The short story? GPS. That’s one of the reasons we have battery draining GPS in every smartphone — because the networks refused to offer it easily.
BlueVia adopted a radically different approach, enabling developers to easily query the location of every single Telefonica (o2/Movistar/etc) customer (with appropriate permissions). The available API stack didn’t stop there. You could do text messaging directly through the network. You could generate revenue from that too. The team at BlueVia kept up the pressure and made sure that the majority of Telefonica’s operating businesses supported their API plans. You could do a heck of a lot with BlueVia from billing to location lookups to telephone and text messaging.
But there was one obvious problem. It was only available for Telefonica customers. So if you were a UK developer that meant you could offer some spiffing tools and services to O2 customers — say 30% of the market. That just wasn’t quite good enough.
The BlueVia team (James Parton in particular) did a momentous job getting the word out to the developer community. I think it’s fair to say that not a single developer or mobile executive had a problem with BlueVia. I’ll go further — I think it’s fair to say that everyone was utterly supportive. The caveat was simple, though — “It doesn’t work on Vodafone… so…”
And that’s when the BlueVia team decided to press exit, momentarily. They sat back and took stock.
Their actions and efforts were not in doubt. However trying to persuade developers to even consider implanting their (crazy simple!) APIs was a problem because of the market support issue.
So the team readjusted. Refocused.
And they’re back.
BlueVia is now all about mobile billing — or “direct to bill payments”. Of course you and I know there’s a ton more strings sitting ready and waiting but right now it’s about mobile billing.
The focus is now on offering mobile billing capabilities to mobile platforms — where “platforms” are defined as companies like (for example) Facebook, Amazon, Zynga, Rovio — companies that have a wide array of customers in the mobile world.
Note: We’re not talking individual developers at the moment. The team are sensibly hunting for the biggies at the moment.
I think this is certainly a sensible way ahead.
Here’s how it will work. Let’s take a totally made up example. I’m operating a gaming platform on mobile and I want to take payments for in-game credits. There are a variety of routes open to me. I’ll probably select a standard payments provider who can take care of credit cards. I might even choose one of those firms that does premium SMS billing. I might also offer PayPal.
And — I might choose to offer BlueVia too. And here’s the science bit. The customer never, ever sees “BlueVia”. Instead, when the customer selects “pay”, the BlueVia API can automatically identify them as a potential user of the service (the service can do a dynamic lookup to establish the precise ID of the user from their IP address). If you’re an O2 customer, say, by default you can be sent directly to the payments page for O2. You’ll see a beautiful, familiar, trusted O2 logo. You’ll be prompted to confirm the payment amount and confirm you want it charged to your bill. Click and you’re done. Job done. That’s it.
Simple, effective and, I think, highly likely to be a preferred option for any Telefonica customer.
Now then, let’s take a step back for a moment.
How many customers are we talking about with Telefonica? 311 million. That’s quite a bit, globally.
And if you add in Telenor… well, it’s easy to assume that Telenor is some small operator with a few hundred thousand customers in Oslo.
Not quite. They’ve got 150 million subscribers. And they’ve just joined forces. Telenor has joined in with Telefonica to offer support for BlueVia.
So now we’re at 461 million addressable customers (give or take, there are a few exceptions). Almost half a billion customers worldwide, able to ‘one-click’ on your game or service payment page.
This is certainly beginning to get interesting. If you are a major platform, that’s good enough to stick it on the radar. It’s good enough to deserve an exploratory meeting, to knock-up a demo, to try our a proof-of-concept with a small amount of customers to see just how much of a difference super-smart, super-simple one-click carrier billing alleviates the traditional payment hurdles.
Telefonica already has global framework agreements with the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and RIM, to use direct to bill payment capabilities. And it’s already live. Every month almost half a million users in Germany alone are making payments via BlueVia’s service.
Telenor’s partnership agreement with BlueVia is significant. It’s the first mobile operator to recognise the significant resources that Telefonica has already expended developing a carrier-grade API operation in the form of BlueVia. Instead of building something else Telenor has lent it’s weight to BlueVia. In doing so, they bolster the offering and benefit from being able to simply plug into the existing system.
(I haven’t confirmed this but I assume that if Microsoft are able to bill Telefonica’s customers to their bill, they will shortly be able to do the same with Telenor. Without having to sign any more agreements.)
Kudos to Telenor’s management team — absolute kudos. Their move will hopefully pave the way for other operator groups to press exit on their own existing (rubbishy?) API operations and throw their lot in with BlueVia.
It’s an exciting prospect. Indeed when I talk with BlueVia’s leader, the highly charismatic Jose Valles, I can’t help but think the next generation of mobile connectivity is being forged right in front of us.
Yes we’re in the single-silo app economy at the moment. We’re wedded to that for a good few years. But our mobile operators aren’t dead yet. If they can band together around the BlueVia flag, the direct-to-bill payments functionality could become an incredibly compelling alternative for many big platforms.
And once you’ve got a wide array of operators locked into BlueVia, it shouldn’t be that difficult to orchestrate some new functionality offerings on a network-wide basis (e.g. “Right then chaps, from February we’re all going to support network lookup capability, OK?”). If you think of BlueVia as the Visa of the mobile operator API world, you can really see where they’re heading with this.
Great work Telefonica. Great work Telenor. More please!