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Telefonica tosses its dosh at pay-by-bonk upstart

Boku is preferred partner for mobile payments

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Mobile-payment processor Boku has raised another $35m in finance, including some from its new BFF Telefonica who has awarded the company preferred-partner status for its developing wallet offerings.

Telefonica, owner of the O2 brand, chipped in a significant proportion of that money, but more importantly it has agreed to make use of Boku's merchant network as well as integrating the prepaid wallets into its billing systems for both on-line and real-world payments.

Boku started with online payments: using an SMS as authorisation for goods bought over the (insecure) internet, and that's an application Telefonica is keen to utilise with on-phone electronic wallets. But last month Boku announced an integration with Mastercard PayPass, to enable pay-by-bonk functionality, making it the ideal partner for Telefonica.

In common with all the network operators Telefonica is keen to get into mobile payments, and has been busy getting its "O2 Money" brand registered as an Authorised Electronic Money Institution so it can start offering banking services. O2 Money first launched a pre-paid card with Natwest in 2009, but the two fell out after a year, and in 2011 O2 Money signed a deal with Wave Crest to provide the processing services for its on-device payment system which never materialised.

Now we're told that Boku is Telefonica's "preferred partner", so it's obviously time for round three. O2 won't be alone this time; Vodafone's offering will be sneaking into the Olympics hidden under Visa's coat with Samsung running interference, and EE is also part of Project Oscar. Oscar aims to create a standard platform (on the SIM) into which applications such as Boku's can be installed, so we should have four or five proximity-payment systems up and running by year end.

Which would be good, 'cos it's almost a year since Orange launched the UK's first pay-by-bonk phone and while Orange has managed to extend support to some decent handsets its still a slow-burning proposition at best. ®

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