O2 mobile wallet app launches text message payments

O2 Wallet The app has a range of services, including a money management facility

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Mobile network O2 has launched a smartphone app that allows users to transfer up to £500 via text message.

It also allows customers to "digitise" their debit and credit cards to speed up purchases from online stores.

The firm also intends to allow users of phones with near-field communication (NFC) chips to make contactless payments in high street shops.

It is the latest of several firms to charge retailers a transaction fee for making it easier to shop.

The service will be free to consumers at first, but O2 said that it would charge 15p for each money message sent by text at a later date.

The network provider said that more than 100 retailers had agreed to accept payments from the service. They include Debenhams, Comet, Sainsbury's Direct and Tesco Direct.

Users can also benefit from a search facility that compares how much goods cost, the ability to load money onto the app from their debit cards and a "transaction history" that keeps track of what they have spent.

The firm said it had held off introducing contactless payments as only a handful of retailers had installed the necessary systems.

Every week seems to bring news of a mobile money product launch - but so far British consumers have proved lukewarm about the idea that their phones can substitute for their wallets.

What's intriguing about O2's new venture is that it's the biggest attempt so far by a mobile operator, rather than a bank or credit card issuer, to enter this market.

In developing countries like Kenya it is mobile firms which have successfully pioneered mobile money innovation - but that's because products are aimed at the many who don't have bank accounts.

In the UK, where that isn't the case, O2 will have to convince customers that their money is safe on their mobiles.

If and when UK phone users do get enthusiastic about mobile money, there's a very lucrative business opportunity - and mobile operators will find themselves in a battle with the banks to grasp it.

It added that it was also in discussions with a rail operator to add a button to buy train tickets.

Security risks

James Le Brocq, managing director at O2 Money said: "We believe it will transform the way people manage their finances and spend money."

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for uptake of such technology is fears about security. He noted that all personal details, pin codes, passwords and other financial data were held on remote central servers rather than on the mobile device.

"O2 wallet has been trialled internally for months and has undergone extensive 'stress-testing' with security experts," he added.

"This is, we believe, the safest and most secure way to deliver mobile payment services."

Project Oscar

Eden Zoller, analyst at Ovum, said the service was part of a wider plan.

O2 and its rivals Vodafone and EverythingEverywhere are working on a national mobile payments service - dubbed Project Oscar. They had hoped to have it up and running in time for the London Olympics.

But the project is held up in Brussels, subject to an anti-competitive investigation.

"For O2 if this project is in danger of being stalled or even derailed it make sense to move ahead with a solo initiative," said Ms Zoller.

Phone with O2 Wallet app opened The app can also scan barcodes and search for cheaper products

It is not the first time O2 has experimented with mobile wallets. In 2009 it tested using mobiles as an Oyster card replacement to pay for travel on London's Underground network.

Last summer saw the launch of the UK's first mobile payment service with Orange and Barclaycard teaming up to offer contactless payments in a range of stores, including Pret a Manger, Little Chef and the National Trust.

Juniper Research estimates that one in six mobile devices will be NFC-enabled by 2014.

O2 currently has 200,000 customers with NFC-enabled phones in the UK.

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