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UK's pay-by-bonk mobile network threesome wins EU approval

One wallet to rule them all, nearly

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The UK operator consortium to create a single electronic wallet will not impede competition, the EU has decided – though Three, Google and PayPal may beg to differ.

The consortium, which notably excludes the UK's smallest network operator, is intended to create a one-stop specification for distributors of electronic currency in all its forms, enabling cross-operator deployment of credit cards, loyalty schemes and vouchers, as long as the operator isn't Three.

Vodafone, Everything Everywhere and Telefonica launched the project in June last year, giving Three's CEO no more than a few hours warning of the impending cartel. Three promptly complained to Brussels about the exclusion, with Google and PayPal also coming out against the venture (though for different reasons, obviously).

Now the EU has decided, following an "in-depth inquiry" that "the joint venture will not likely lead to a significant impediment to effective competition" so the project can go ahead and get itself a proper name ("Oscar" being a working title).

Once it has an identity Oscar will sell space on operator SIMs for secure services such as payment schemes or loyalty cards, but it will also sell cross-network advertising slots on operator portals and SMS campaigns, which may, or may not, involve secure services.

Project Oscar certainly threatens Google Wallet; every 'Wallet-compatible phone also supports SIM-based secure apps, so there's no incentive for one's bank create a Google Wallet version of its card when an Oscar version will work more broadly. It will also hurt those companies already delivering mobile advertising campaigns, who will now have a hard time pitching against an operator-owned competitor.

From a pay-by-bonk point of view this is a good thing, which can only help drive investment, and utilisation, of proximity payments. Consumers will appreciate a single platform, even if that platform excludes Google and PayPal, though excluding Three might be a harder price to pay. ®

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