After more than a year of planning and regulatory scrutiny, a United Kingdom mobile commerce joint venture called Project Oscar isn’t quite ready to call itself a mobile wallet or payments service.

Rather, the mobile network operators behind the joint venture have changed Project Oscar’s name to Weve and unveiled the service this week with an initial focus on mobile advertising for merchants and couponing for consumers.

Weve, a branding play on words for We’ve Joined Up Mobile, touts itself on its website as “a new focal point for a whole new set of experiences and ideas across the mobile spectrum,” emphasizing mobile marketing, advertising, loyalty programs, coupons and payments.

Weve intends to “link the mobile commerce chain” with various merchant-consumer interactions through mobile text-based messages, video, application-based promotions, voucher integration and redemption, as well as payments and loyalty processes, the website states.
The venture did not indicate a location for an initial launch, but it is expected that a more widespread launch throughout the UK will not unfold until some testing is completed.

It also did not say when consumers will be able to pay for goods or services on a smartphone through Weve or which technology would drive payments. However, telco partners Vodafone UK, Everything Everywhere, and Telefonica O2 UK have previously indicated an intention to rely on Near Field Communication, which enables contactless payments at the point of sale.

It is not surprising that Weve would first venture into establishing mobile commerce for merchant advertising and promotional interaction with consumers. Early on, Project Oscar developers said the joint venture's mission was to design a mobile commerce infrastructure, not a consumer-facing brand. The individual phone companies would develop their own systems for delivering what would now be called “Weve coupons” for the project's marketing component.

Under that setup, the joint venture provides the “technical backbone” that enables third parties to create one mobile version of their cards that will work in all wallets of all companies that are customers of the joint venture.

Marketing and advertising probably represents a bigger opportunity for Weve in this initial stage than mobile payments in the developed markets, says Zil Bareisis, a London-based senior analyst for research firm Celent.

“Obviously, data from payments transactions can be very useful when presenting the merchant offers, but those offers can also be targeted based on geo-location, customer searches and other bits of data which can be made available to the mobile operators,” Bareisis says.

Because Weve represents a consortium of the leading mobile network operators in the U.K., each with strong consumer reach, merchants are likely to view Weve as a “very attractive channel” for advertising and promotions, Bareisis says.

Developers of Isis, a similar U.S. telco joint venture but with more emphasis on a mobile pay brand for consumers, likely watched closely this year as the European Commission scrutinized the Oscar joint venture and its potential to block competition.

After studying the project under the European Union’s merger regulations to assure future competitors could not be blocked out of the marketplace, the commission eventually approved Project Oscar in early September.

In addition, Isis and competitor Google Wallet may keep an eye cast on what Weve eventually decides to establish as its payments technology. Both Isis and Google Wallet have launched with NFC as its core technology, though industry analysts do not view these mobile wallet ventures as a last-chance critical test for NFC adoption.

Bareisis echoes those feelings about Weve and its expected use of NFC.

“I don’t think it represents a make-or-break for NFC because Weve is only about what the consortium does,” Bareisis says. “Individual members are free to develop their own payments propositions and many do, having done the deals with the card networks and banks, or developing their own mobile wallets.”

A spokesperson for Weve could not provide more details by deadline, saying the company remains in startup mode and she could not provide specific information about when a payments feature would launch or which technology the joint venture might embrace.

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