European mobile payment services are in danger of over-crowding

Rumours that Google's Wallet service will be launched next year in the UK  were followed swiftly last week with news that the US-based Isis m-commerce venture is holding talks to discuss international opportunities.

If Isis, a US-wide network spearheaded by Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA, is targeting Europe-- which seems likely--then 2012 could become a very active year given how many partnerships and joint ventures that are planning to launch in Europe over the next six to 12 months.

While some attempt has been made to gain a common m-payments platform across Europe, most large operators and banks have pushed ahead with their own plans or formed joint ventures with other operators to gain adequate scale. These include joint ventures in Denmark, Germany, the UK and elsewhere.

The results so far seem to range from services that are either specific to individual countries, to a bank forging ahead with a service that is independent of the mobile operator. This fragmented approach will do little to encourage consumer adoption, with the risk that uptake will be slower than many hope. 

The good news is that the handset vendors have pushed ahead with the integration of NFC into their products.

According to a new study from IMS Research, most of the leading handset manufacturers have launched NFC-enabled phones over the past year. These include HTC, Nokia, Research In Motion and Samsung, with only Apple as a major vendor yet to unveil an NFC-enabled smartphone. IMS Research believes that 35 million NFC-enabled handsets shipped in 2011, and this is set to grow rapidly reaching nearly 80 million by the end of 2012.

However, m-commerce is a complex business model with each of the players wanting a slice of the transaction revenue--a topic  that has been the seemingly perpetual cause of much disagreement between the involved parties, leading to delays and collapse of planned services. (T-Mobile Netherlands just backed out of the Dutch m-payments joint venture over delays in gaining regulatory approval.)

Perhaps it is wishful thinking that Europe could persuade mobile operators, banks, card issuers, retailers, advertisers and the many technology providers to back a single standard.

So, this next phase--which promises to see many and competing services launched--is a necessary process that needs to take place so those involved, including the consumer, can better understand what works best for all.--Paul