Earlier this week, Mozilla made a splash at the start of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with the official launch of the first phones to be made on its new Firefox OS smartphone platform, and the names of 18 carriers and several handset makers that were getting behind the business. Now more details are emerging about other partners in the process: among them, it looks like Mozilla has signed Bango to enable mobile payments on the devices. Bango is the carrier billing specialist that works with the likes of Facebook,
Amazon, BlackBerry and Opera to provide such services for these company’s app stores.
(Update: a spokesperson pointed out that although Amazon and Bango have an agreement, “nothing is live yet, and Amazon are Bango are both keen to promise little & deliver big when the time comes.”)
Although neither company has announced anything, you can see the details when you visit the Firefox OS stand in the show, where, if you view a demo for how billing works, a Bango logo appears at one point on the screen.
It’s also spelled out in Mozilla’s API documentation, which details that Mozilla is using a combination of Bango’s public APIs as well as some APIs that have been customized for the Firefox OS app store specifically. “Currently Mozilla uses Bango to enable mobile payments,” the page reads. “They have several public APIs but they have also customized some APIs for what Mozilla needs to do.”
For some, this may not come as a surprise. One of Bango’s most recent deals was with the mobile carrier Telefonica, which signed a deal with Bango in January to power carrier billing for Telefonica’s services across its 314-million subscriber footprint. That deal will see its first implementations in Telefonica’s Latin American operations — which fits with the Firefox OS remit to target emerging market users who have yet to get tied in to Android or iOS ecosystems. When it was getting released, I guessed that an “unannounced” app store deal referenced by Bango would be one with Mozilla:
“The global deal…will mean that developers who make apps for Telefonica’s 314 million subscribers will be able to integrate a single API into their apps and mobile websites to enable two-click carrier payments across app stores in Bango’s network. These include Facebook’s App Center, Google Play, BlackBerry App World, Amazon’s Appstore, Windows Phone Store, Opera’s app store and an upcoming app storefront that Bango says it’s keeping under wraps for now. (My guess: an app storefront for Firefox Mobile, since Telefonica is a partner in that venture, but who knows — maybe it’s Apple finally coming around to carrier billing…)”
Also in keeping with this is Bango’s recent $10.2 million fundraise — which it has said it would do to fund emerging market expansion.
One of the reasons that so many mobile carriers (18 in all) are interested in developing phones on Mozilla’s Firefox OS is because the new, HTML5-based smartphone platform will give them the opportunity to control different service aspects more than they have been able to do on devices like Android smartphones and Apple’s iPhone. That covers things like home page customization and adding local services, but also commercial activities like mobile advertising and billing for things like apps.
Billing has been one of the key bones of contention for carriers. It’s a terrain that operators have always thought to be theirs by default, a way for them to create closer ties with their customers, and get a cut of the sales action for mobile content. That assumption, however, was disrupted pretty badly by companies like Apple, Google and others, who have built out app stores that have cut carriers out of the picture altogether.
The promise of carrier billing has been that it’s an easier way of closing the deal on buying apps and content within apps like virtual goods, and is especially good in markets where credit card penetration is low (such as in emerging markets) — but it remains to be seen whether targeting users in those regions will be as successful as selling apps to those in more affluent markets. And of course whether the experience of a pure HTML5 app store on a “native” HTML5 phone will prove as compelling as the one delivered by Mozilla’s more proprietary competitors.
Bango has declined to comment for this story, and we are awaiting to hear back from Mozilla about how far this agreement extends.
Update: Jay Sullivan, Mozilla’s SVP of products, tells us this, which again does not directly confirm Bango but that the API that is provided (which is Bango’s) will be standardized for all browsers and operating systems — since it is a web-based store, those apps might cover more than just Firefox OS devices. “Apps can be purchased through the Firefox Marketplace, through alternative marketplaces provided by third parties, and directly from developers,” he said. “Firefox OS also includes a Web API to execute in-app payments, which we aim to standardize for all Web browsers and operating systems to use.”