By Andy Williams, Contributing Editor
Payment by cell phone is about to get a big boost from an association of Europe’s largest mobile phone operators. In February, after two years of testing, Simpay announced specific launch dates for its payment product.
“Simpay launches in Spain in Quarter Two of this year, and in Belgium and the UK by Quarter 4, 2005,” said Jim Wadsworth, Simpay’s chief marketing officer. Further announcements are expected later this year for launches in other European counties in 2006.
Simpay is the branded name of the Mobile Payments Services Association, a nonprofit association created in 2003 and located in London. Its four founding members – Orange, Telefónica Móviles, T-Mobile and Vodafone – represent some 300 million customers. This year, two other companies joined Simpay: Amena, serving 9 million Spanish subscribers, and Proximus, which services 99% of the Belgian population.
The overall objective of Simpay is to create an open and interoperable framework for mobile payments. Its aim is to deliver an open, commonly branded solution for payments via mobile phones. With the February 2005 addition of these new operators Simpay now has members in 20 European countries.
“Over the last two years,” said Simpay’s new CEO, David Taylor, “phones have gotten better and the range and quality of mobile content available has improved dramatically. We’re seeing some real movement in the m-content market.”
Mr. Taylor, who was just hired in February from Simpay member Orange UK, calls Simpay’s ready-for-prime-time venture “a fully-tested, secure, easy-to-use method of payment. It underlines the work done by Simpay and its member operators, and demonstrates the momentum in the m-payments market. As more operators join and we launch into other countries through 2006, consumers will become as familiar with the Simpay logo as they are with their own operators.”
The initial launch will allow consumers to pay for digital content–such as ringtones, MP3 downloads, wallpapers and video clips–by clicking on a “buy with Simpay” button on a mobile internet site. “Payments will be charged to their mobile phone account,” said Mr. Wadsworth.
According to the company, Simpay will allow, for example, an Orange subscriber from the UK to buy content from any participating merchant and have the payment show on his or her Orange account. The merchant could be based in Spain, and need not have a commercial relationship with Orange. Similarly the merchant in Spain, via a single commercial deal and technical interface with a single Simpay mobile operator, will be able to transact with every consumer of every operator participating in Simpay, says the company.
A white paper issued this year by Simpay provides more detail on the payment process: “Purchases will be charged to the customer’s mobile phone bill or to a pre-paid account with their particular operator. When the customer clicks the option to pay with Simpay, the mobile operator provides details of the transaction to the customer’s mobile phone screen. The customer clicks to send their confirmation. Simpay’s role is to route the payment details – first the payment request and then the authorization – between the mobile operator (a Simpay member) and the merchant acquirer who, in turn interacts with the merchant (the content provider of MP3s for example). Launching Simpay in this way focuses on serving the under 10 Euros on-line transaction space – a market, which banks have historically not really served. Mobile operators are strongly positioned to unlock this market.”
“By the end of 2005, more than 70 million European consumers will be able to use Simpay to buy digital content over both the fixed and mobile Internet,” said Mr. Wadsworth.
The commercial launch follows the successful completion of Simpay’s internal system build, and extensive work from Simpay’s technology and testing partners, Encorus, Tata infotech and Integri over the last 24 months.
As to U.S. availability, it won’t come until at least next year. “Simpay will make further announcements on launch territories during the course of 2006,” said Mr. Wadsworth.
Is Simpay destined to become the de facto standard for mobile payments? Said Mr. Wadsworth: “Simpay will co-exist with other payment solutions; we do not require exclusivity so member operators will continue to use their own payment solution, pSMS etc., when appropriate. Simpay does aim to become the de facto standard for payments for digital content on the mobile Internet – and the first interoperable, borderless system in the world.”
Simpay membership is open to all mobile operators. Many, the company says, have already expressed interest in Simpay and are expected to join this year.
As one Simpay member – Alberto Calero, director of new services for Amena – put it: “Our vision is to enable our customers to buy whatever mobile content they want, no matter who they are buying from, and which European country they are in.”