Let's forget about the "mobile wallet"
The term "mobile wallet" has always bothered me--not just because of the hype it seems to carry with it, but because of its redundancy. My wallet has always been mobile, after all. This week, however, the industry seems wholly focused on that convergence of mobile phone and wallet. Most notably, Qualcomm acquired one of the key players in mobile banking today: Atlanta-based start-up Firethorn. The price tag was $210 million.
Qualcomm announced its intent to acquire Firethorn one day after AT&T said it would embed a mobile banking application powered by the start-up in its handsets moving forward. AT&T is not Firethorn's only disclosed carrier partner, however. Last month, Verizon Wireless announced that Firethorn was its strategic partner for offering mobile banking services. And other carriers are likely to follow suit: Firethorn's board of directors includes Dave Dorman, former CEO of AT&T Corp. (pre-SBC merger) as well as John Stanton who served as CEO of Western Wireless (now Alltel) and CEO of VoiceStream (now T-Mobile USA).
The GSM Association also updated the industry on its progress with its Pay-Buy-Mobile initiative, which it launched in Barcelona at 3GSM in February: 12 operators across the world are beginning trials of contactless mobile payment services in the coming months. Operators in Australia, France, Ireland, Korea, Malaysia, Norway, The Phillipines, Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey and the U.S. are participating. MasterCard is powering the trials in the U.S. and Korea (among others) where AT&T and KTF are testing NFC-enabled handsets to use MasterCard's PayPass application in retail settings.
"Mobile payment services, which will enable transactions to be completed faster in shops, restaurants and train stations, will also make it easier for merchants to offer their customers precisely-targeted discounts and other promotional offers," said GSMA CEO Rob Conway in a statement.
Sony and NXP also formed a joint venture today called Moversa, which aims drive adoption of contactless smart card applications in mobile phones using Near Field Communication (NFC). Moversa aims to plan, develop, produce and market a chip that includes both MIFARE and FeliCa, two popular contactless smart card technologies in the market.
While the GSMA trials and the Moversa joint venture are telling of the longterm commitment that the wireless and financial industries are making to mobile financial services, Qualcomm's acquisition of Firethorn and AT&T's plan to embed the start-up's banking application on future handsets clearly show that mobile banking is here and now. Now that the mobile financial industry has broken into commercial viability, let's put part of its sordid past behind it and forget about the term "mobile wallet." -Brian