Mobile Payments – Collaboration is the Key

In theory, mobile payments have a strong business case, given the high market penetration rates of mobile devices, such as cellular phones and PDAs, in many parts of the world. In addition, mobile operators and financial institutions envision an attractive way to enable their customers to make payments through these devices. Users can reap convenience benefits on the consumer side, permitting them to buy goods and services from any location. A mobile device can be used as a POS (point of sale) tool. Mobile operators and financial institutions consider this concept the next logical step in making mobile devices a trusted payment device for consumers, as a payment instrument supplementing cash, cheques, credit cards, and debit cards.


Financial institutions are rolling out wireless POS capabilities to merchants competing with consumers’ mobile phones. Several new services have been introduced worldwide in which merchants are accepting payments from wireless POS terminals. These wireless POS terminals, for example, allow merchants to offer home delivery services where prices are presented and accepted upon delivery of goods or services to the consumer’s location.

Wireless POS terminals use the wireless networks of mobile operators to send payment instructions to a merchant acquirer’s payment server. Consequently, wireless POS services are classified as an extension of traditional payment services. Given that, almost everyone will soon own a mobile phone in some areas of the world, and most merchant locations offer POS terminals as a form of payment, it is at least conceivable that the mobile device will take over a large part of the retail payment market.

Since wireless POS implementations extend current payment infrastructures, users still need to use a credit or debit card to purchase. The convenience associated with current wireless POS methods has to do with the fact that these terminals are brought to the purchase location. For example, in a restaurant environment, the user pays for their bill via debit card from their seat or for their groceries delivered to their front door.

Mobile devices enable the use of numerous services that do not need card readers, personal computers, modem combinations, or a merchant’s wireline POS terminal. Nowadays, mobile devices have an embedded chip that can store information and provide secure authorization and identification.

The Need for Interoperability

Numerous mobile payment pilots have been conducted that enable mobile devices to be used as a payment option, some of which have advanced into full mobile payment services (e.g., PayPal, PayBox, MovilPago). But to make these services available to most mobile users, mobile payment service providers need to roll out services that offer interoperability. To date, we’ve discovered that the key to providing a successful mobile payment service has to do with the benefits it gives the end user and the end user’s customers: convenience, security, and freedom being a few key elements.

Though the industry has a long way to go before mobile devices become a consumer’s payment instrument of choice, collaboration is the key to ensuring the stability of a viable mobile payments infrastructure. Both mobile operators and financial institutions have tried, with little success, to implement their pilot projects. Both parties have encountered numerous difficulties. Mobile operators, for example, because of their extensive existing customer base, technical know-how, and billing comprehension, seemed the most likely candidates to provide mobile payment services. However, problems associated with risk management and the collaboration of numerous providers needed to accomplish interoperability have arisen.

On the other hand, financial institutions are confronted with a limited number of users and high infrastructure costs. Mobile operators and financial institutions have begun collaborating to offer mobile payment services to their customers jointly to remedy these problems. For instance, leading Dutch direct bank ING/Postbank Nederland has partnered with the Netherlands’ number three mobile carrier, Telfort, to offer users mobile access to the bank’s retail applications and link user bank accounts to Telfort’s prepaid service top-up capabilities for account recharging. In this case, these two entities are taking advantage of their natural symbiosis, which is a big step in the right direction.

Currently, four entities are needed to make a payment via credit card (acquirers, issuers, merchants, and consumers) to make a payment via a mobile device; there are five (mobile operators, acquirer, issuer, merchant, and consumers). As a result, the ideal business model includes the cooperation between mobile operators, financial institutions, technology suppliers, and industry associations to create a certain amount of standardization, ensuring the successful implementation of a strong mobile payments infrastructure.

Still, numerous issues, including limited functionality available through the current generation of networks and a lack of standards, to name a few, are hampering the efforts being carried out by these industry players. In addition, questions regarding successful revenue-generating business models also remain.


As mentioned earlier, cell phone and PDA penetration rates are higher than ever, with forecasted growth rates showing exponential increases in consumer adoption. Accordingly, industry focus should be centered on the business side. Right now, it is not feasible for a mobile operator or a financial institution to roll out competing services on a proprietary model that does not include interoperability. Mobile operators and financial institutions must collaborate to implement mobile payment services that marry a consumer’s bank account with their mobile subscription. Offering payment services should not be seen as a competitive advantage but rather as a necessity that will drive the success of the rollout of mobile commerce.

Today, we see several initiatives taking place, including creating various industry associations designed to address the different issues associated with the mobile industry. With these activities, underway-mobile operators and financial institutions are beginning to work together to roll out new payment services. Pre-paid top-up, for example, is the first real commercial mobile payment application that is being introduced into several markets. Financial institutions and mobile operators are collaborating to enable mobile subscribers to electronically pay for their pre-paid wireless accounts using several banking channels such as telephone banking, Internet banking, and ATM and mobile banking, completely automating the? Top-up? Experience using SMS (Short Message Service).

Currently, payment instruments are stored in virtual wallets on mobile devices or centralized on the open network service platform. Depending on how the service is set up, consumers register for the service through their financial institution, mobile operator, or service provider. The registration is necessary to link the consumer’s subscription data with their financial information and provide the service’s mobile device. Future methods may see users using their mobile devices to access their bank accounts, whereby the mobile operator’s function will be simple to transport the data. In addition, smart cards issued by financial institutions may become more prevalent.

As mobile services and infrastructures evolve, we will see the true notion of portable payment instruments living up to the hype of? Anytime, anywhere payments.? Soon, mobile payments will become an integral part of consumer lifestyles, replacing the payment instruments we have hidden in our wallets today. Mobile operators and financial institutions need cooperation to build a viable mobile payment offering. It is also clear that the next logical payment industry step is to provide consumers with the ability to make payments for goods and services on their mobile devices. The only true concept of? Anytime, anywhere charges? It is conceivable through access via a mobile device. ‘Where there’s a wireless, there’s a way,’ the key to the industry’s success is as simple as giving consumers what they want.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.