The Smart Pipe awakens...

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This is huge: Vodafone will let mobile and internet application developers use the company's global billing system, which reaches almost 300 million mobile customers around the world.

Start saying farewell to a massive, massive bottleneck for digital commerce.

This means anyone, worldwide, with a Vodafone postpaid or prepaid account will be able to use it as a payments system for buying things online and over their mobiles.

This is especially good news for media and games companies that want to charge for content, because people are far more comfortable with having a two dollar charge on their mobile account than they are with getting out the credit card - and the majority of the world's population do not even have credit cards. But they all have mobiles.

As mentioned on this blog a while back
, a huge opportunity for mobile networks is to turn their systems into "smart pipes" that can deliver and charge for content in ways that the old dumb pipes of the internet cannot do. Today is the biggest example yet of an operator jumping on that train and riding it.

Companies like Apple, RIM and Nokia are already doing this in a way with their app stores, letting third-party companies bill customers through their app store accounts. But Vodafone's system is big on a whole different level, and customers can charge up accounts with scratch cards available on every street corner. Watch for other big global networks to jump on this ASAP, and cross your fingers that the whole system ends up being interoperable.