Mobile operators team on payment scheme

Four of Europe's biggest mobile phone operators are inviting other mobile phone companies worldwide to join an association aimed...

Four of Europe's biggest mobile phone operators are inviting other mobile phone companies worldwide to join an association aimed at establishing global standards for payments made with wireless devices.

Vodafone, France's Orange,  Spain's Telefónica Móviles and Germany's T-Mobile International have launched the Mobile Payment Services Association (MPSA) in the hope of developing a system that allows mobile phone customers to purchase goods and services with mobile devices across all mobile operator networks, the four companies said Wednesday in a statement. Hutchison 3G and mmO2, KPN Mobile of the Netherlands and TMN of Portugal have already expressed interest in joining the association.

The initiative will establish a payment scheme that allows mobile phone customers to make low-priced purchases through mobile operator-managed accounts and create an easier, more secure way to make both smaller and larger purchases using mobile phones together with credit and debit cards, said association chief executive officer Tim Jones.

The lack of standards for mobile payments has hindered the mobile commerce market. Interoperability is a crucial issue, Jones said, pointing to the SMS market as an example. Once operators agreed to interoperability standards to send and receive text messages across their networks, SMS boomed. Until a number of operators use a single payment solution, a barrier will exist to mass-market adoption of m-commerce, he added.

The association will continue some of the ground-breaking work begun by T-Mobile and Vodafone, which early last year teamed to start work on an industrywide mobile payment initiative, according to Janine Young, a spokeswoman for Vodafone. "This is taking our earlier initiative one step further by opening the door to all operators," she said. "The association will look at all the various mobile payment solutions on the market. There is no exclusivity."

One of the members in the new association, Telefónica Móviles, is also a founding member of Mobipay, a mobile payment initiative launched in Spain that includes three other local mobile operators and several big Spanish banks. 

Operators outside Europe are warmly welcomed. "Although we are launching the initiative in Europe, we are definitely interested in bringing on board as many operators from Asia and the U.S. as possible," he said. "Three of the founding members have substantial operations in the Americas and Asia."

At a glance, the payment scheme initiated by T-Mobile and Vodafone resembles in large part what the new association hopes to achieve; a system that enables users, for instance, to store personal details and preferred payment options in their mobile phones and then choose what payment they wish to use to purchase goods. Payment options include direct payment to a monthly bill, debits from a prepaid account or from a stored value account controlled by a mobile operator or credit and debit cards.

Much of MPSA's standardisation efforts will concentrate on defining interface specifications and messaging formats. MPSA will work closely with the GSM Association, which represents the interests of mobile operators using Global Service for Mobile Communications technology, the European Institute for Telecommunications Standards (ETSI) and other standards bodies in Europe and abroad.

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