Banks, Telcos to Decide on Wallet PhonesBy Reuters - | Posted 2008-10-30 Email Print
Technology for paying with mobile phones by just flashing them near reading equipment in stores or in public transport is ready, and consumers have appreciated the ease of its use in trials around the world. The world's biggest payment card company, Mastercard, will unveil a service for banks, enabling them to install payment cards into clients mobile phones much easier than earlier, possibly breaking the deadlock over the market takeoff.
HELSINKI (Reuters) - The potentially lucrative business of mobile phone wallets is waiting for banks and telecom operators to agree on each one's role and possible revenue flow in the future.
Technology for paying with mobile phones by just flashing them near reading equipment in stores or in public transport is ready, and consumers have appreciated the ease of its use in trials around the world.
The world's biggest payment card company, Mastercard, will unveil on Thursday a service for banks, enabling them to install payment cards into clients mobile phones much easier than earlier, possibly breaking the deadlock over the market takeoff.
"We are talking to serious banks ... and not about trials, but about commercial launches," said James Anderson, a Vice President at Mastercard's mobile business.
Anderson said that during the next two years he expects to see substantial activity from retail-focused banks, whose plans to develop mobile payment services have been little affected by the financial crisis.
"We have not seen a lot of impact," Anderson said.
It would still take at least until 2010 before any wider availability of phones equipped with such technology and the financial industry and telecom operators would need to agree on some kind of revenue and role split.
"Traditional financial industry met telcos by going mobile. Now telecom operators want to play a part in that chain. These talks are well under way," Gerhard Romen, Director for Strategic Alliances & Partnering at Nokia, told Reuters.
"Now it's like the Olympics, everyone is on their starting blocks, and just waiting," he said.
Consumers will be able to use a phone as a wallet or as an access card simply by waving it over a wireless reader, and in some cases punching a PIN number into the phone -- similar to how travelers in Tokyo and London access public transport.
"It's not the payments driving it, it's the convenience and simplicity for the user," said Nokia's Romen.
Mastercard's new service could help deal with some of the problems facing the industry, but analysts said there was more to be done.
"A lot of pieces are yet to be fit in and some of them are out of control of the financial community," said Ed Kountz, analyst at Jupiter Research, adding that lack of availability
of wallet-phones was also holding back the market.
World No. 1 phone maker Nokia has introduced four products using the technology, called Near Field Communication (NFC), and also other handset vendors are ready to roll out such phones on notice, industry executives said.
ABI Research has forecast 6.5 million NFC phones would be sold this year, up 10-fold from 2007, but the growth is hampered by costs stemming from low volumes and an extra chip needed in phones for data security.
"Lack of handsets is a symptom of a business model problem, not the cause of it. Handset makers are comfortable with the technology and if people are starting to order them the vendors are going to make them," said Mastercard's Anderson.
Last year Nokia and large European and Asian carriers -- including KPN, Maxis Communications Bhd, O2, Orange, SingTel, SKT and Wind -- joined 14 mobile operators that initiated the project for common NFC technology earlier.
MasterCard is also involved in the initiative, which is cheaper and much faster than other wireless payment experiments, like those using SMS text messages.
China Mobile, Vodafone, Cingular -- owned by AT&T Inc and BellSouth Corp -- and Telefonica already support the common wireless chip format on the mobile phones they distribute for their networks.
Together with chip makers NXP and Sony, which pioneered the contactless NFC chip, companies plan a global standard for electronic wallets in mobile phones.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Gary Hill)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved