Mobile phone customers will be able to use automated teller machines (ATMs) to top up pre-pay telephone accounts within the next year, in a major boost for the mobile commerce market.
The UK's main mobile operators, high street banks and the Link cash machine network are in advanced talks about deploying the service, which will require IT integration if it is to succeed.
The top-up facility would appear as another option on the ATM screen and amounts would be debited from the customer's account just like a cash withdrawal.
The convenience of the service, which has been available in Eire through the Bank of Ireland for three years, could help boost revenues for cash-strapped telecoms firms and pave the way for more ambitious m-commerce services, analysts said.
Dick Clark, managing consultant at e-commerce specialists Consult Hyperion, said, "It's a great idea as long as the ATM operators [see] it as a way to increase their revenue by increasing ATM usage. It's another channel in the retail environment for customers to pay their bills."
It would also be less vulnerable to fraud than the scratch-card system for pre-pay accounts offered by retailers, Clark added. "Scratch-cards are notoriously difficult to control and tend to go missing," he said.
While the banks are connected through the Link cash machine network the mobile top-up facility would require links between the banks and mobile phone providers to authorise transactions. The networks of the mobile operators are already connected through an electronic transaction protocol for billing and accounts systems.
Trevor Jenkins, general manager for service delivery at the Link, said it was keen to adopt existing standards used by mobile operators in order to smooth the roll-out of the new service. "We are looking to make it easier for the mobile phone operators," he said. "We would try to fit whatever message standards they have."
Mobile operator Orange said it was in discussion with a number of partners about the ATM top-up scheme. Barclays bank, however, said that it had no plans to provide the service.
Meanwhile plans are afoot to allow mobile phone users to arrange ATM payments remotely using wireless technology. NCR, the leading UK provider of ATMs, said it is in discussion with a number of UK banks about a mobile payment facility, with a pilot system due to be announced within the next quarter.
Software installed on mobile handsets or personal digital assistants would allow customers to decide how much money they want to withdraw from their accounts. When approaching the ATM the customer would only have to enter their Pin number on the screen and point their phone at the ATM to start the transaction.
Communication between the ATM and mobile phone would initially use infrared technology, and later Bluetooth, the wireless standard, as it matures. Within the next three years NCR also plans to allow mobile phone users the option to print e-mails from specially upgraded ATMs.
How it will work
- The top-up facility will appear as an option on the ATM screen.
- The customer inserts the cash card, selects the top-up option from the screen menu and enters mobile phone number.
- Another option under consideration is for the customer to enter a code indicating their mobile network provider, such as Orange or BT Cellnet.
- After checking through the card issuer's bank and telecoms operator the transaction would be debited from the customer's account just like a cash withdrawal would.