Everything Everywhere, O2, Vodafone forge JV to fast-track m-commerce

The UK's three leading operators, Everything Everywhere, O2 and Vodafone, formed a joint venture to accelerate the uptake of mobile commerce. The new venture aims to launch an open platform that banks, retailers and advertisers can use to deliver m-payment and m-advertising services to customers of the three operators. 

"The creation of an open platform is a real landmark for the industry," said Telefónica O2 CEO Ronan Dunne on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "We're at the tipping point for m-payments and m-advertising. We will see common standards, along with new tools and services that'll accelerate the adoption and uptake of m-commerce."

Tom Alexander, CEO of Everything Everywhere (the parent company of Orange/T-Mobile), said that the creation of the joint venture-- which lacks any form of brand name--was all about timing, and to get away from the fragmented approach to NFC. None of the operators disclosed their financial investment in the operation.

"There are three main elements to the joint venture," Alexander said. "Common technology, interface and standard; a one-stop-shop for advertisers wanting to run a campaign across all mobile subscribers; and a business development team to create the vision for services such as the mobile wallet."

However, 3UK is noticeable by its absence from the venture, and its CEO, Kevin Russell, has already expressed his concern at not being involved with this cross-industry initiative. This exclusion of 3UK might also cause European and UK regulators to question the three operators, which each own a third of the venture, on how open it will be. It also remains unclear when the joint venture might be given approval from regulators to commence operations.

All the founding operator executives said that 3UK had not been explicitly excluded from the joint venture, and other operators and MVNOs would be welcome to join at some stage. "We [the three founders] got together to accelerate m-commerce in the UK", said Dunne. "It'll be an open B2B platform, with security being provided by the handsets' SIM card."

Vodafone UK CEO Guy Laurence added that the joint venture will motivate handset developers to integrate NFC into more of their devices. "We've already been contacted by firms interested in becoming involved in building a wider eco-system." Of note, Laurence added that the three founding operators see the joint venture as a model for other markets: "The problem the joint venture is solving is common to all large territories."

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Bloomberg article

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