The European Commission (EC) is to launch an in-depth anti-trust investigation into a mobile commerce joint venture between the UK's largest mobile operators.
Vodafone, Everything Everywhere and O2 had been planning to create a standalone company focused on the delivering of new mobile marketing and payment services, including near-field communications (NFC) enabled mobile wallets.
“The Commission is in favour of any initiative that will develop the promising mobile commerce sector in Europe and bring new and innovative payment and interactive advertising experience to consumers,” said Joaquín Almunia, EC vice president of competition policy.
“At the same time, we need to make sure that competing services can keep emerging on this market, so that incentives to innovate remain and customers get the best mobile commerce services at the best cost."
The Commission's initial investigation found that the mobile operators' market strength may enable them to block competitors from offering their own mobile wallet services in the UK.
It will now undertake a full investigation to see whether the joint venture can be allowed to proceed and is expected to make its decision by 27 August.
The operators concerned said they were confident that the joint venture would be given the green light by the EC.
"We remain confident that an extended review will conclude that the proposed joint venture is pro-competitive and will provide robust competition to global players," the three firms said in a joint statement.
Mobile operators are not the only ones looking at the development of so-called mobile wallets, which let consumers use their mobile phones to make purchases.
Search giant Google has already deployed its service in the US, and signed up major retailers including Macy's, Toys R Us and Banana Republic.
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