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EU boots UK phone cash bonk threesome out of bed

Telco trio must wait until August for NFC green-light decision

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The EU thinks O2, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere's combined approach to pushing pay-by-wave phones could stifle competition - so the triumvirate will have to wait another three months to find out if they'll be allowed to team up.

Not that the EU is rejecting Project Oscar, the platform proposed by the telco trio, but the rubber stamping that had been hoped for is now off the agenda. Plus, as NFC World reports in detail, a full investigation will be necessary before the three operators are allowed to create their own secure-app-hosting platform, much to the delight of Three, which was never invited to the Oscar party.

Project Oscar, like its US equivalent ISIS, is designed to provide a single point of contact for companies hoping to deploy secure applications taking advantage of wireless NFC (Near-Field Communications) technology.

So a bank could create a single credit card application, or a supermarket a loyalty-card app, compatible with Project Oscar, and deploy its software onto the secure and protected element in phone SIMs, which are owned by all three operators (with the app makers paying an annual rent, naturally). The secure element is required by the NFC standard and is the bit trusted to hold a punter's private banking details.

But Oscar goes further than that - submissions to the EU (and seen by El Reg) propose that advertisers would also be able to book SMS campaigns and in-app adverts, which would be sent out to customers across the three operators - thus the platform isn't limited to those applications making use of NFC or the secure element which underlies it. Even banner ads on network operators' web portals would be sold by Oscar, with advertisers also able to pay more for demographically-targeted advertising.

Pay-by-bonk desperately needs standard platforms on which to exist - Barclaycard isn't going to make different versions of its app for every network operator when it can create one for Google Wallet (which will, eventually, work on every Android handset) - so if the operators can't get together then they'll probably lose the platform entirely. Elsewhere in the world operators are also coalescing into groups to create similar bodies, though the UK operators' decision to exclude their smallest rival, Three, was always going to make approval more difficult.

Three is still welcome to use Project Oscar, but as a customer rather than a joint owner, a status the forth network operator rejects.

When NFC was first touted, something in the region of a decade ago, the thought was that network operators could move into banking and make a percentage on every bonked transaction. That dream is now long gone, the barriers to entry being almost insurmountable, so the network operators now look to advertising and renting out space on the (SIM-based) secure element as the best way to fund NFC, which is why Oscar has expanded into sending bulk SMS and banner adverts.

But delaying everything by another few months gives cloud-based solutions, such as Barclaycard's PingIt and PayPal Mobile, more time to establish themselves, and gives Google Wallet more time to embed itself as the default solution, not to mention getting a few months closer to Apple's much-anticipated entry into the fray. ®

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