Vodafone adds carrier billing to Android Market

Google is finally bringing direct carrier billing to the UK, allowing Android users to pay for stuff from the Android Market without sharing their credit card details with Google Checkout.

Available in the US since 2010, and in Japan since 2011, direct carrier billing is another method of paying for content from the Android Market. Rather than going through Google Checkout and being charged to a credit or debit card like a normal purchase, the value is tacked on to a user's monthly mobile bill - or taken directly from their pay-as-you-go balance.

It's a convenient way to paying for mobile content, and one that prepares Google well for its planned move into mobile payments via the Near-Field Communications technology built into its Nexus S - and upcoming Nexus Prime - smartphone.

To prevent people from overspending - or a rogue app from draining someone's account - there are more limitations in place on carrier-billed items than on standard purchases: the maximum purchase price is £30, which shouldn't be a problem for most users, and the most you can spend in a single month is £250.

Thus far, Google has announced a partnership with Vodafone for the carrier billing, with both contract and PAYG customers granted access. The service will take time to roll out, however, and when we tried to use it on a Vodafone-connected Samsung Galaxy S II we found only the usual Google Checkout option.

Vodafone UK is the first mobile network to offer carrier direct billing in Europe, but it's unlikely to be the last: its German arm has announced plans to introduce the same feature, and other UK carriers are likely to follow as soon as they can make a suitable deal with Google.