If mobile content is really going to take off, content will have to be accessible to mobile users in many different areas, including outside the operators' own portals.
To enable that to happen, four operators bonded together a little over a year ago to form what is now called Simpay, and was known before as the M-Payment alliance.
Simpay's aim is to act as the Visa or Mastercard of the mobile digital content world. The idea is, wherever users see the Simpay logo on a website, WAP portal or elsewhere, they will be able to buy the picture, download, clip, or whatever, and be billed directly to their mobile.
The system will also be similar to a bank payment scheme in that there will be a value chain incorporating merchant, merchant acquirer, payment system provider, mobile operator and customer. The ground will be slightly blurred, however, by the fact that
But there the similarity between the credit card industry model and Simpay stops, according to ceo Tim Jones. The principle difference is the margins that the 'merchant", the person selling the content, makes on the sale. In the Visa model a merchant might make a service charge of around 2.5% on a transaction, but in the mobile world content merchants are already used to around a 25-30% margin.
At the moment Simpay is still made up of the four original operators who founded it, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Telefonica Moviles. Several other operators (including 3, debitel, Elisa (previously Radiolinja), KPN Mobile Group, Mobilkom, O2, Optimus, SFR, TeliaSonera and TMN) have "expressed interest" but nobody else has actually made the step of joining.
Jones attended CTIA Wireless in Atlanta in March with the aim of encouraging US operators to join in. But he remains condifent that other operators will make the step to full membership when they see the technology working. Until its proposed launch in early 2005, Simpay is in a chicken and egg situation.
But the announcement that it has signed up Encorus as its mobile payment transaction processor will help build momentum that the organisation will achieve its aims. Although Mobile Europe understands that Encorus has been waiting in the wings for a while as preferred partner, its announcement has been put on ice for a few months.
"The history of the mobile phone industry demonstrates that major business volume comes when customers have the freedom to reach across and interact with any network," comments Tim Jones, CEO, Simpay. "Our mission is to deliver that freedom in the field of mobile payments, and our agreement with Encorus is fundamental to achieving this mission"
Anil Malhotra, chief alliances officer at Bango.net, said it was "no coincidence" that recent interest among operators in off-portal content has met with the run-up to Simpay.
"The revolution here is to say there is a way to pay without going to a mobile operator. The arrival of Simpay is extremely helpful because it takes away our cost of billing. Malhotra said Bango.net would most likely become a "strong mobile merchant acquirer".