Using mobile phones to make payments and banking transactions and as electronic wallets has long been seen as valuable applications by carriers, merchants, financial institutions and device vendors.
There are two threads to this. Some services-made possible by short-range technologies such as near-field communications (NFC)-actually make the phone into the payment device. More broadly, the ecosystem is dealing with the intricacies of doing business from cell phones, even if it isn't the payment device itself. ABI Research suggests that good times are ahead for various forms of mobile payments. The research-reported upon in InformationWeek-says that mobile commerce will generate $1.6 billion in expenditures this year. ABI gives both a thumb's up and thumb's down to NFC. On the positive side, NFC has gained a spot on a Nokia handset. However, the technology hasn't met lofty expectations some held because of "unclear business models."
There is a feeling that it may still thrive. For one thing, the category benefits from dual drivers: In the developed world, familiarity with smartphones makes mobile payment a potentially lucrative value-added service -- once those troublesome business models are sorted out. In the underdeveloped world where banks are rare, it is seen as a primary way for people to do business.
There have been a number of announcements in Europe. The highest profile, perhaps, is the purchase by Nokia of mobile payment company Obopay. This CNET piece quotes a Reuters' report on research from Berg Insight that predicts mobile banking will explode, growing from 20 million users in 2008 to 913 million in 2014. The piece points out there are others in the sector, including PayPal Mobile.
Two weeks ago, Orange U.K. and Barclaycard announced a deal that focused on NFC. The arrangement-which CardLine Global termed "perhaps the most important declaration to date" by banks and telecom companies using the technology-also includes mobile ticketing, peer-to-peer funds transfer and loyalty programs. The piece says that Barclaycard is bypassing a company related to Visa in favor of a system from MasterCard Worldwide.
Another move on the European mobile payments front was made by Belgacom, which launched a service called PingPing. The Paypers reports that the announcement came after the carrier acquired a 40 percent stake in a mobile payment system company called Tunz. An NFC service will be piloted in conjunction with the launch. Belgacom is partnering with Delhaize, which will provide service vouchers to Accor Services and Coca-Cola. In the test, 500 Belgacom employees with utilize NFC tags associated with their phones to use electronic meal tickets linked to their PingPing accounts at restaurants with the proper contactless readers. Another trial is set for next month in Brussels.
The Germans also are getting in on the act. Finextra says that Deutsche Bank's Global Transaction Banking unit and vendor Luup will offer mobile payment services in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Deutsche says it is the first major commercial bank to offer such services across international borders. Luup recently switched from focusing on merchants and end customers to concentrate on relationships with banks.
Mobile payments-both the big vision of using smartphones as the hub for payments and the more granular approach of actually using a device as a payment mechanism-is dear to the hearts of many companies. They hope that it also will be embraced by end users.