Last week, we highlighted how Facebook is already using mobile devices for commercial services — enabling people to buy Facebook Credits and charge them directly to their mobile bills. Now, it’s increasingly looking like that may just be the beginning: today, UK-based mobile billing and analytics specialist Bango (AIM: BGO) announced that it had signed a deal to provide unspecified services to the social network.
This is a significant deal for Facebook on two separate fronts:
— It ties Facebook up with one of the bigger companies in the area of mobile billing: Bango is the payments provider for RIM’s App World, which yesterday once again laid claim to being the second-most profitable app storefront after Apple’s — largely because of the fact that it has a strong business in paid apps and that those apps are billed directly to users’ mobile bills in 34 countries. RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) yesterday claimed that 13 percent of its App World developers earn in excess of $100,000, which is massive considering how many developers earn next to nothing.
In December last year, Bango also secured a deal with Amazon.
Like the Facebook announcement that deal provided no detail about what it was that Bango would do for the company — although that, too, could be an opportunity for Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) to build carrier billing into its mobile apps. A spokesperson contacted today declined to comment on the details of either the Amazon or Facebook deals, although she did confirm that Amazon was an active customer.
The use of carrier billing also begs another question: for what? That could point to Facebook offering richer mobile services on its web platform. The could include paid content apps or the ability to pay for other goods and services, perhaps linked up with location-based deal offerings. As the FT points out, that’s something that Bango itself started to promote, coincidentally just when news began to leak out of Facebook’s own HTML5 push, code-named “Project Spartan.”
It could also mean Bango working alongside or in place of other billing partners: Bango competes directly with Facebook partners Zong and Boku.
— The other significant side of Bango’s business is in the area of analytics for mobile web sites as well as apps. This is a service it already provides various high-profile publishers like CNN, Fox (NSDQ: NWS), and EA Mobile, among others — as well as to mobile ad agency AKQA — to help track how mobile content is used and consumed. That helps the publishers not only track what content “works” but also can be used to build profiles to sell advertising and marketing services.
If reports are true, that is another area where Facebook is going to have to start doing some serious tracking, too: the company is reportedly going to start inserting “sponsored stories” into mobile users’ feeds, which would represent Facebook’s first big foray into offering marketing services to brands since filing for its IPO last week — where it pointedly mentioned it had yet to start offering such revenue-generating services.
Facebook is holding an advertising confab at the end of this month — its first high-profile foray into wooing Madison Avenue — where it may well announce more details about how its mobile plans are progressing.
The other point to be made here is that it is interesting that Facebook is taking the road less traveled by companies like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and exploring routes to align itself with carriers as it expands what it does on mobile. It’s not the first time: Facebook has a whole swathe of non-smartphone users that can update their statuses by mobile; many of those feature phone Facebookers are using SMS, which also require carrier interconnections to operate.