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Can Uber Win India Without A Native Mobile Wallet?

Uber is in an arms race with India’s leading ride-hailing app.

Can Uber Win India Without A Native Mobile Wallet?
[Photo: Flickr user Mr Thinktank]

Uber has been extremely transparent about its ambitions to expand aggressively in Asia, particularly in China and India, where the company plans on investing more than $1 billion in each country.

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But as clear as Uber’s vision is, expanding into the two largest markets in Asia will be no easy feat: The multi-billion-dollar company is already facing stiff competition from native ride-sharing juggernauts, including China’s Didi Kuaidi and India’s Ola, with the latter announcing today that it will expand its OlaWallet digital payment platform to allow users to pay for everything from travel to groceries.

“We want to make it more meaningful to use that money,” OlaPay exec Rushil Goel told BuzzFeed News. “We’ve started off with a few folks across different areas such as travel, commerce, food, groceries, and different areas.”

The move is a strategic one for Ola and OlaCabs (which currently operates in 100 Indian cities, compared to Uber’s 18) in that it makes signing up for OlaCabs more valuable to Indians. But ever the competitor, Uber announced days later that it would integrate a non-native mobile wallet called “Airtel Money” into its platform through a partnership with India’s largest wireless carrier, Bharti Airtel. As an incentive, signees will enjoy free 4G Internet in all 150,000 Uber cabs as well as 500 rupees off their next ride.

It’s an arms race between the two companies to claim Indian wallets—as well as the second largest market for ride-shares in the world—but Ola appears to have the upper hand here. Despite its partnership with Bharti Airtel, Uber still doesn’t offer a native wallet, which is increasingly important in a country where few people actually use credit cards, and if users want to use Airtel money without going through Uber they’re free to do so. The same cannot be said about OlaPay.

Whatever happens, the battle with Ola will provide a much-needed distraction from Uber’s woes in China, where tech company Tencent has blocked the company from using its widely adopted WeChat app, which millions of Chinese people use to order food, book flights—and order cabs from Didi Kuadi, which controls a stunning 90% of China’s ride-share market.

“China is so different than the rest of the world,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Caixan in July. “We want to make sure that Uber [China] is authentically and thoroughly Chinese, a real Chinese company.”

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About the author

Nikita Richardson is an assistant editor at Fast Company magazine.

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