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Proposed UK mobile payment standard sidelined after complaints from Google and Three

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The European Commission has launched an in-depth investigation into Project Oscar amid claims that the proposed mobile payment standard is anti-competitive.

Google Wallet
Google Wallet

The European Commission (EC) has put the brakes on Project Oscar, a mobile payments standard proposed by the four largest UK carriers. Conceived by O2, Vodafone, and Everything Everywhere (a joint venture between Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom which consists of the Orange and T-Mobile networks), Project Oscar aims to develop a single standard for payments over all the companies networks, as well as providing a framework for advertisers, retailers and banks to launch services from. The coalition gave the EC its required notification early last month, but the commission has announced it is to launch a formal in-depth investigation that may take many months. All four carriers are also reportedly involved in an enquiry into collusion between the five largest carriers in Europe that started last month.

The EC's issues are related to competition or, more accurately, the lack of competition that the standard would allow. Stephen Lerner, the regulatory director for Three, the other mainstream non-virtual carrier in the UK, said that Project Oscar was "akin to a joint-selling arrangement", and would lead to the big four "controlling and selling access to over 90 percent of UK mobile subscribers." He added that the coalition wants to "foreclose the market to third parties and do away with the inconvenience of competing with each other." Three is not part of the proposal and has a relatively small marketshare at around 10 percent.

According to The Telegraph, Google is also unhappy about the carriers pushing it out of the market — the search giant recently began piloting its Google Wallet payment system in the UK, but has not yet set a date for the service to launch. The EC now has until August 27th to decide whether or not to allow to allow Project Oscar to commence as proposed.