Opera Software ASA doesn’t hold back in its pitch to provide more opportunities for mobile payments worldwide.

The Oslo, Norway-based Web browser developer announced the launch of the Opera Payment Exchange on Feb. 28 as a way to “bring mobile payments to the 99%.”

Opera believes the payment exchange, which provides application protocol interfaces for payment-gateway providers and developers of mobile-payment software, will enable users of nearly any mobile phone–or 99% of phone owners–to make a mobile payment.

The mobile-phone user must have the Opera Mini browser on his phone to benefit from a network that includes the Opera Payment Exchange applications.

The Opera Payment Exchange marks the company’s first major venture into offering a mobile-payments gateway, though Opera has plenty of experience in developing mobile-payment applications and Web browsers, Sameer Merchant, Opera vice president of mobile commerce, tells PaymentsSource.

“The whole vision behind the creation of the payment exchange is to make mobile payments easier for the end user and to make it available to more people,” Merchant says.

Opera manages Web browsers, which makes it easier for the company to provide a better user experience by targeting the payment-gateway providers with the payment exchange application interfaces that provide security, streamline billing and create new revenue streams, Merchant adds.

Opera has secured partners in Yandex.Money, InMobi, SmartPay by Onsharp and Bango.net Ltd., which will use the payment exchange in their networks in parts of the world not serviced by major mobile-payment providers, Merchant notes.

“The exchange provides a service not just for processing credit card information sent through a mobile phone, but for many different forms of payment,” Merchant says.

Opera zeroed in on Yandex.Money in Russia as a client because the Opera Min browser is popular in Russia, and Yandex operates with payments made through Yandex accounts instead of cards, he adds.

Because the payment exchange focuses on e-commerce, gateways operating in countries in which credit cards are not a common payment method will benefit from the service, Merchant suggests. “In some cases, the payment can be made by having the transaction amount charged to your phone bill, and the payment exchange allows that type of mobile payment,” he adds.

Opera reports that more than 160 million mobile phone owners use Opera Mini, its free mobile browser. Merchant attributes much of that growth to Opera Mini’s use on smartphones and older model phones. The Opera Mobile Store offers 55,000 applications covering Google Inc. Android, Oracle America Inc. Java, Accenture Symbian, Research in Motion Ltd. BlackBerry and Apple Inc. iOS devices.

Opera’s browser has long been popular in Russia but continues to grow in the United States, Asia, Africa and Latin America, Merchant says.

Opera hopes the payment exchange ultimately drives more consumers to its mobile store for paid application downloads, Merchant notes.

The payment exchange represents a true business-to-business sales model, as Opera will sell the program directly to gateway providers and mobile-payment companies. Merchant did not disclose pricing for the payment exchange program.

“A company would make contact with Opera to purchase the payment exchange service, and the next step would be to set up how the exchange would be developed within their payment network,” Merchant explains. “After that, Opera provides all of the application protocol interface software needed.”

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