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Verizon to launch less than brill billing service

Paying with your phone online? Meh

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US operator Verizon will allow online retailers to add to the customer's mobile phone bill, providing just the kind of out-of-channel security that's proved so unpopular this side of the pond.

The service, which will be launched this spring, is based on BilltoMobile and allows a Verizon customer buying something on a website to authorise the transaction on their mobile phone - to a maximum-combined value of $25 a month - in the same way as various UK services have been doing for a long time, with surprisingly little success.

With near-ubiquitous ownership and a separate communication channel the mobile phone would seem to be the obvious way to pay for goods bought over an internet of dubious security, but despite being around for so long the idea has resolutely failed to catch on.

Nearly a decade ago websites would require the user to send in a premium-rate text to receive the password, which could then be used to access (in one instance) instructions for regionally unlocking DVD players. The process was mooted for other transactions, but network operators have always been reluctant to allow anyone to touch their billing system, and regulatory issues have helped forestall wide scale adoption.

In the UK the privatisation of BT created concerns that the former monopoly would take advantage of its nationwide billing relationship to sell additional services, prompting strict limits on what could be placed on the "Blue Bill".

But there are distinct advantages in paying by mobile phone - the security of taking a transaction off the internet, and off the customer's computer (where key-logging Trojans might be lurking), is worthwhile, and there's also the small matter of avoiding the credit card company's cut. Despite these upsides, though, punters have proved reluctant to sign up.

The UK's standard mobile payment platform, PayForIt, was supposed to authorise online transactions as well as facilitate on-mobile purchasing. The latter part of that is just about dead in the water - even the example sites PayForIt lists aren't using the platform any more - but ImpulsePay is using PayForIt to enable just the kind of mobile-authorised payment system Verizon is backing.

Both systems require the user to enter their mobile number, though Verizon will be asking for a ZIP code too. The user is then sent an SMS with the code to be typed into the website which leads to the cost of the transaction being added to their mobile bill.

It remains to be seen if Verizon's branding can make the idea more popular this time around, but one can't help feeling that mobile operators sould have been doing this a decade ago. ®

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