UK operators submit mobile wallet plan to EU as 3UK wades in

UK operators Vodafone, Everything Everywhere and Telefónica have finally submitted their plan to create a mobile wallet joint venture to the Europe Union, but 3UK has labelled the project as "discriminatory" and has raised objections to the venture.

According to reports in the Financial Times and The Guardian, 3UK's objections have delayed the creation of the joint venture by several months after talks to include the UK's smallest operator failed. The European Commission now has 25 days to approve the proposals, ask for any amendments, or extend its investigations.

The three partners in the joint venture, codenamed "Project Oscar," have said the venture will be run as an independent platform and will be open to all, but 3UK believes it will be anti-competitive: "The JV will control and sell access to over 90 per cent of UK mobile subscribers and their data, thus allowing Deutsche Telekom, France Telecom, Vodafone and Telefónica to foreclose the market to third-parties and neatly do away with the inconvenience of competing with each other," Stephen Lerner, regulatory affairs director at 3UK, told the FT.

Project Oscar is far from the only mobile wallet joint venture set up by operators in Europe and elsewhere, as operators seek to enable mobile subscribers to buy products and services via their smartphones online or by using Near Field Communications (NFC). For example, operators in Germany have set up the mPass venture, while other JVs have also been established in the Netherlands, Denmark and Hungary and French operators have long been operating the commercial cityzi network in Nice.

Speaking to Fierce Wireless:Europe late last year, Tony Moretta, Everything Everywhere's director of mobile commerce, said the UK joint venture would not just focus on mobile wallet services and NFC. He said mobile marketing, advertising and other types of online payments would launch very quickly, with contactless payments based on NFC technology expected to start rolling out later in 2012 year as more handsets come onto the market.

The regulatory delays will not have come as a welcome development for the UK venture, which faces a growing level of competition from banks and other mobile money options such as Google Wallet. The three partners in Project Oscar argue that the JV will bring a credible mobile wallet service to the UK that would benefit the entire market through the creation of a large-scale platform.

For more:
- see this FT article (reg. req.)
- see this Guardian article
- see this finextra article

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