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Operators turn UK bonking consortium into Google-killer

Project Oscar tries to make mobile advertising pay

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The UK's central clearing house for mobile advertising now has a name, and a logo. But you won't find any mention of NFC, despite that being the original intention of the consortium before its rebrand as Weve, a business-to-business service "primarily aimed at advertisers looking to engage in mobile commerce".

Project Oscar – was originally set up to provide a standard (SIM-based) platform into which companies could port their NFC applications to work across operators, though the focus has now expanded to cover all m-commerce applications in the UK. Operators are now pushing to achieve that which has eluded both Google and Facebook: making money from advertising on mobile telephones.

Weve logo

The idea of Project Oscar was that a credit-card company, say Barclaycard, is unlikely to want to create separate versions of its electronic card for each network operator, so a consortium was set up to standardise the platform between all the operators. all of them, that is, except Three - which wasn't invited and even now is only welcome as a paying member, not a founder.

At that time, it was imagined that operators would be taking a cut of every transaction, but while the EU was mulling over the implications for competition it became clear that Visa and Mastercard were never going to share their revenue stream, and the operators were obliged to look elsewhere.

In the US the equivalent scheme, ISIS, was forced to rewrite its business model to make money from vouchers and renting space to loyalty schemes. Oscar wasn't out of the gates so there was no such upheaval on this side of the pond, but documents submitted to the EU made it clear that Oscar, or Weve as it's now known, would become a clearing house for all sorts of advertising delivered to mobile handsets.

That would include vouchers and discounts stored in the NFC Secure Module on the SIM, but also SMS campaigns and banner adverts on operator portals - Weve has aspirations to become the Google of the UK mobile scene, delivering targeted advertising across network operators and renting out space on the operator SIMs to companies that want visibility in the handset.

Which is why Google complained so loudly to the EU during the investigation. That investigation was at the operators' request, they were well aware of the competition issues, but the EU decided having a standard platform for payments would be OK and that Google would have to fight it out for market share.

What that share is worth is open to debate. Pay-by-bonk isn't exactly booming, and neither Google nor Facebook can seem to turn a profit on mobile advertising despite the popularity of vouchers these days. Operators, on the other hand, seem to be doing better: O2 More, for example, lets customers opt in to location-based offers and seems to be doing OK, and the equivalent Orange Shots was recently been expanded to T-Mobile customers (branded "You Choose"), so perhaps the operators can make money out of mobile advertising.

The idea was to create a single platform for NFC payments, which Weve should still deliver, but the focus is now on taking on Google in pushing adverts out to mobile handsets, and keeping Three out of the club obviously. ®

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