The trend observed in 2010 is now confirmed as numerous actors of the telco world are pushing towards mobile payments.
For years, the operators have been only a “pipe” for billions of transactions in the new economy. Today they are trying to get their share of a market estimated to $1.13 trillion globally by IE Market Research.
At the Mobile World Congress, held last week in Barcelona, telecom operators have been actively discusing a technology known as near-field communications (NFC), which allows consumers to buy items by tapping their phone on a specialized reader at the cash register. While this technology is not new, it is not yet widely used and not completely standardized. This year will be a turning point, as most of manufacturers will release NFC-enabled models on the market.
But this won’t be easy as taking this market involves competing with two other major actors:
First, the credit card giants Visa and MasterCard won’t let themselves be replaced and lose a lot of revenue from transaction fees without a fight.
Then Apple and Google are entering the row, providing software-based payment systems independent from operators and manufacturers’ solutions. Google plans this year to integrate it in its Android mobile operating system.
Apple is weighing putting a NFC chip in its next iPhone and could tie it to its widely-used iTunes payment system to control the mobile payment value chain like it has with music and magazines on the iPod and iPad.
Several start-ups have also created stickers and memory cards that users place on their phones to process payments. Visa’s contactless payment program, dubbed payWave, for example, relies on a memory card with a NFC chip in it.
In this race, operators are trying to find allies in the Banks. In the US, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile formed a joint venture last year with Barclays Bank and Discover Financial Services. In France, the three competing mobile operators Orange, SFR and Bouygues have teamed up with several banks and tested mobile payments over a year where 3000 residents could use NFC-enabled phones to pay for public transportation and in a thousand local retailers.
However, the fight won’t be limited to developed countries. Emerging markets are said to offer even more opportunities for mobile operators, because Credit Card majors are much less present over there.