Europe's antitrust regulators are examining whether major British telecom companies should be allowed to go ahead with plans to create so-called 'mobile wallets'.
The joint venture from Everything Everywhere, O2 and Vodafone UK, Britain's three largest mobile operators, would allow customers to make payments via their phone using NFC (near field communication) technology. The companies want to create a system that would store debit or credit card information on handsets and enable payment by swiping the phone against a reader at the checkout.
However, the European Commission will be examining the proposal closely following complaints by 3UK, which said the project is "discriminatory" since the three companies involved represent more than 90% of UK mobile subscribers. The Commission has until April 9 to decide whether to approve the plans or to investigate further.
A similar proposal from a group of six Dutch companies is also currently under review. The joint venture, known as Travik, has already delayed plans for its launch until 2013 as it comes under regulatory review.
The British group aims for a summer launch, but this may prove optimistic as the Commission is still trying to draw up legislation on digital payments. A first proposal is expected by the end of this year, following a public consultation that ends on April 11. Data protection and reuse is certain to be one of the concerns raised by the Commission and it will likely look for reassurances regarding open standards.
Groups in other European countries including Germany, Denmark, Hungary and Sweden will be watching closely as digital wallet projects are in the pipeline despite potential competition from Google, which launched its service in the US last September.