Everything Everywhere, Vodafone and O2 have come together in an unprecedented partnership to offer a single system of paying for goods and services via mobile phones.
The joint venture, announced at a press conference on Thursday, will centre on the use of mobile SIM-based wallets, which customers will be able to top up as they would a pre-pay card, and near-field communciations (NFC) technology to touch and pay in retail outlets.
The venture is completely open for advertisers, marketers, banks and retailers to join, and will take advantage of the mobile-commerce work already done by operators such as Orange and its Quick Tap initiative.
"Collaboration here is key because it gives consumers and businesses a clarity and simplicity and a certainty on which they can build their propositions," said Ronan Dunne, chief executive of Telefónica, which owns O2. "We are accelerating a reality, not simply painting a vision."
There are three main elements to the initiative, according to Everything Everywhere chief executive Tom Alexander.
The first involves putting together common technology and standards, and the second is the formation of a central sales organisation which will sell to advertisers "in a cohesive way".
The third is a business development team which will work with third parties to "create the vision of a mobile wallet".
The operators expect more parties, which could include Three and Virgin Mobile, to join the venture in due course, and are hoping for regulatory approval by the end of the year.
Vodafone chief executive Guy Laurence added that the single, industry-wide mobile-commerce venture should also encourage hardware manufacturers to accelerate the development of NFC on handsets.
Fred Huet, managing director of telecoms consultancy Greenwich Consulting, suggested that the venture could propel the UK to the forefront of the global mobile payments industry.
"The whole industry is just beginning to take NFC seriously, with operators, retailers and banks all starting to climb onboard," he said.
"As soon as handset manufacturers begin releasing NFC-enabled devices, demand will soar and innovative services will soon emerge, linking loyalty cards, couponing and digital money."
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