[Dave Birch] Mobile payments are developing in some pretty interesting ways at the moment. While we tend to think of mobile payments as being some sort of replacement for our familiar plastic cards, this is only one part of the market. In some parts of the world, retail is not the focus, and mobile money transfer has become a serious business and it’s already beginning to connect the developed and developing worlds. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the most important uses of the technology, in terms of improving the lives of the most people: making it possible to move money around means inclusion and financial services where there were none before.

Vodafone, Safaricom and Western Union have announced that they will partner to pilot a cross-border Mobile Money Transfer (MMT) service between the U.K. and Kenya.

[From Payments News: Vodafone, Safaricom, Western Union Partner for Mobile Transfers – December 08, 2008]

So you can now use your mobile phone to send money from one country to another. That’s not to say that retail payments are not participating in the mobile revolution. If you look at countries such as Japan and Korea — which I stress are not templates for the rest of developed world, but we can see them as testbeds for certain technologies that will inevitable spread — mobile payments are part of the mainstream. There, it’s the mobile operators who have been driving change and, while using mobile proximity payments to buy cups of coffee have long since ceased to be novel in those markets, those operators are continuing to drive innovation. Oddly, given the focus in the press, one area where contactless payment technologies may have great impact is not in stores but on line.

SK Telecom subscribers, who can already use the “T-Cash” mobile payment system to pay for bus fares, grocery products and parking tickets, will now also be able to purchase goods and services from the Internet… Since launching the service earlier this year, SK Telecom said it gathered more than 200,000 users of T-Cash. The mobile wallets are used for paying bus, subway and taxi fares, buying items at 24-hour convenience stores, and paying for parking at a number of major facilities such as Seoul Station, Gimpo International Airport and Seoul World Cup Stadium. T-Cash will now be accepted as payment at 11th Street (www.11st.co.kr), an online retail and auction site operated by SK Telecom, and Cyworld (www.cyworld.com), the country’s most popular social networking service, operated by SK Communications, the Internet unit of SK Telecom.

[From Mobile Payment Extended Online]

I wrote, four years ago, about Cyworld and its role in shaping next generation payments. In the Korean market, the Cyworld connection is particularly significant. So why isn’t the activity and energy from the developing world and from Japan and Korea yet having any impact in the mass market in Europe or the US? Well, one clear reason is that it has taken a long time for the GSM world to sort out standards and put the development of handsets on a firm roadmap. And although the standards have firmed up (in fact the GSMA got the standards it wanted) there’s still only a couple of handsets out there. A few months ago, the GSMA called for NFC to be delivered in to the mass market, well, round about now.

The GSMA, the global trade group for the mobile industry, today called for full NFC functionality — including the standardised ‘Single Wire Protocol’ interface — to be built into commercially available mobile handsets from mid-2009, in order to ensure that consumers can reap the benefits of mobile payment services as soon as possible.

[From GSMA Calls for Pay-Buy-Mobile Handsets]

It’s taken a lot longer for NFC to get near the mass market than many of us thought when the first experiments began four or five years ago. But it does at least seem that it’s now practical to begin thinking about the new businesses that will emerge when we combine the GSMA roadmap with the laboratory results from Asia and the game-changing business models from Africa. I’m getting more enthusiastic about NFC as the days go by.

An important element of service that must be delivered in the move from pilot to deployment is security and I will be talking about security for mobile proximity payments at Marcus Evan’s 3rd annual M-Payments and M-Banking Forum in Madrid on the 11th and 12th June 2009. They’ve got a great set of speakers together for this event and I’m looking forward to hearing the pan-European perspectives coming from great speakers from France, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, the UK and, of course, Spain amongst others. It’s a good time to be reviewing the lessons from the early deployments and starting to formulate realistic business strategies to lead banks and others forward.

In an action of astonishing generosity, the magnificent people at Marcus Evans have given me a delegate pass for the event — worth an astounding TWO THOUSAND EIGHT HUNDRED AND NINETY FIVE BRITISH POUNDS plus VAT, now only 15% — to give away on this blog as a competition prize. So if you are going to be in Madrid on those dates and you’d like to come along to hear some of the leaders in the field exploring business models, technologies and strategies for growth in the mobile banking and payments market, then all you have to do is be the first person to respond to this post with the English translation of the currency used in Cyworld.

In the traditional fashion, this competition is open to all except for employees of Consult Hyperion and members of my immediate family, is void where prohibited and will not raise global temperatures by more than 2 degrees by the year 2100. The prize must be claimed within three months. Oh, and no-one can win more than one of the Digital Money Blog prizes per calendar year.

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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