At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past February, Facebook (Nasdaq: FB ) CTO Bret Taylor made a promise: The social-media giant would work tirelessly to create a less onerous mobile payment system for its game and app developers and users. Facebook has now delivered on that promise, unveiling a new, two-step direct carrier billing process for its mobile web apps.
This is a big deal, and it could put Facebook front-and-center when it comes to making mobile payments easier to obtain for businesses and simpler for customers to transact. Previously, taking and making payments on Facebook via mobile devices required six or seven steps, the biggie being SMS identification, which verified that a customer's device could access his or her account. According to Taylor, this issue kept many users from completing transactions.
Developers were equally frustrated, not only because they knew they were losing money, but also because of the myriad companies and interfaces they needed to deal with for the system to work. Now all they need to do is tie in to Facebook's platform using the site's API and they'll be good to go. Facebook has taken care of the rest, teaming up with carriers in more than 60 countries to make it all work seamlessly.
So far, not every carrier has signed on for the new, simpler system. In the U.S., AT&T (NYSE: T ) , Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) and T-Mobile are up to speed, having already updated their systems to sync with the new, two-step carrier billing service. Interestingly, Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , along with US Cellular, is not on board yet. This could be an issue for users, since Verizon Wireless, the joint Verizon-Vodafone (Nasdaq: VOD ) entity, has the most expansive network and 93 million subscribers -- compared with Sprint's 56 million. If Verizon doesn't opt in, Sprint and AT&T, which is second only to Verizon in subscribership, will enjoy a nice edge.
It seems obvious that Facebook wants to be a player in the mobile-payments field, and it makes sense that it would want to do so. The company has nearly 1 billion users, along with multiple developers from which these users can purchase virtual goods. The site has recently launched the Facebook App Center, where the company corralled all of its apps -- something that, combined with the new payment system, speaks to a maturing platform and a serious concern regarding payment convenience for both its developers and users.
I think Facebook will continue to grow its mobile-payments program and that the communications companies that keep up with them will benefit. After all, with a captive audience like Facebook's, how can they go wrong?
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