The European Commission has given UK wireless operators Vodafone, O2, and Everything Everywhere the green light for Project Oscar, their mobile payments joint venture.
Oscar - first announced last June - aims to create a single mobile wallet platform hosting cards, coupons and transactional information on the SIM card. Banks, card schemes, retailers, transit companies and other telcos would be able to rent space on the SIM under a subscription model.
The EC opened an in-depth inquiry into the JV in April after its initial investigation raised concerns that the plan could stifle competition, blocking future rivals. Among the most vocal critics of the plan had been smaller telco Three, which has been excluded from the early stages of the project.
However, the Commission says it has now "unconditionally approved" Oscar on the basis of the EU merger regulation, concluding that it "will not likely lead to a significant impediment to effective competition in the EEA".
The investigation revealed that a number of alternatives already exist and much more are likely to emerge - some operating on the SIM, and others in the cloud. In its ruling, the EC states: "It is unlikely that the creation of the joint venture will allow the parent mobile network operators to block these alternative routes to market using technical or commercial means."
Joaquín Almunia, Commission VP in charge of competition policy, says: "Mobile commerce is a nascent sector that may radically change the consumer buying experience in the next few years...The Commission is keen on promoting innovation in this area and ensuring that the markets remain open so that a number of competing solutions can emerge without undue obstacles, to the benefit of consumers."