Britain has fallen behind the US and many developing countries such as India and Tanzania in developing mobile phone transfers as a widespread alternative to cash or credit card payments. However, Vittorio Colao, group chief executive of Vodafone, said it is finally set to kick into gear closer to home.
“I hope 2013 will be the year of launch,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
Earlier this year, Vodafone formed a joint venture with rivals O2 and EE, the company behind Orange and T-Mobile, which aims to accelerate the roll-out of mobile payments in Britain by developing a single set of technical standards for use on all devices and networks.
The joint venture plan was first made public in summer last year and aimed to launch widespread mobile payments in time for the London Olympics. However it became mired in red tape over competition concerns, and did not win European approval to get going until September.
Mr Colao would not say when in 2013 the joint venture will begin rolling out products but it is expected to be towards the end of the year. He blamed the delay on European bureaucracy, which had put the UK well behind America on the mobile payments front, even though both countries had started work on their respective schemes at the same time.
“In Europe everything takes too long because we have organisations and bureaucratic controls that are excessive,” he said. “Now that we have the authorisations we will do our best [to launch mobile payments as soon as we can] but getting the permissions takes longer in Europe. Everything takes longer. It’s a general problem of Europe. Even within each country, there is too much bureaucracy.”
American mobile operators, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, which is 45% owned by Vodafone, launched their own joint mobile payments scheme in October. The joint venture, Isis, was given the go-ahead despite objections from the likes of Google which also has a mobile payments scheme.
However, mobile payments are most advanced in developing economies in sub-Saharan African countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where they have enabled people with no bank accounts to transfer money to each other over long distances. Around a quarter of Tanzania’s GDP now goes through the M-Pesa system.
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