Mobile payments (m-payments) in Asia-Pacific are expected to record transactions worth more than two-fold from 2009 revenues of US$1.6 billion, in five years.
In 2015, Frost & Sullivan estimates that m-payments could exceed billings of US$3.6 billion, at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 14.8 percent (2010-2015).
Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Shaker Amin attributes this growth to technology innovations and operators' initiatives - particularly with NFC (Near Field Communication) - as well as rising consumer demand in both the developed and emerging markets.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan ( http://www.wireless.frost.com ), 2010 Asia-Pacific Mobile Payments Outlook - 18 Asia-Pac nations including Japan - finds that contactless payments via the NFC channel will increase in popularity to account for 23 percent of all m-payments in 2015, from only 12 percent last year.
The SMS method which accounted for nearly 82 percent of total transactions in 2009 will likely remain the dominant mobile payment channel till 2015, albeit dropping to about 67 percent by then.
Other payment channels such as WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and DMB (Direct Mobile Billing) contributed small fractions to m-payments in 2009, with adoption levels not expected to rise through to 2015.
"Having one of the most advanced mobile cultures in the world, Japan and South Korea lead the region in the adoption of mobile payments," Amin says.
He adds that the relatively less developed mobile markets such as China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, where access to traditional banking services is highly skewed against the rural mass population, are showing rapid take-up of mobile banking services including person-to-person (P2P) transfers and remittances.
"Even in emerging markets such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - although limited to mostly SMS-based bill payments and micro credit transfers - m-payments services are increasingly becoming popular," he continues.
Amin explains that these [emerging] markets also have good potential for mobile remittance services due to the large population of workers residing in other countries - Malaysia for example. "International remittance sent out from the significant migrant worker population in Malaysia is a lucrative business. This is significant for Malaysian operators as this segment of the population also has high mobile penetration; more than 90 percent of all migrant groups have mobile devices," he says. He adds that operators' initiatives in enabling remittance services - along with m-wallet and top-up/transfer services - have helped the mobile payments market in Malaysia, which, until recently, remained tepid and limited to bill payments.
According to Amin, "In sharp contrast, despite having one of the highest mobile penetrations in the region, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have shown little adoption of m-payments todate. Contactless payments in these markets are primarily driven by the use of smart cards as opposed to m-payments." NFC will fast change this, Amin believes.
"NFC will find wide popularity, and quickly too, in developed markets where mobile penetration rates and the use of smart cards for contactless payments are already high, and rallying the supporting infrastructure is relatively easier (than in developing countries)," he says.
However, Amin says, "The mobile payment value chain is quite often embattled with issues of which vested party plays the bigger role - and hence, takes a bigger revenue share - and infrastructure interoperability issues between the banks', application service providers' and mobile operators' platforms.
"Nevertheless, in all instances, the benefits are enormous - for mobile operators, it provides a means to add value to their commercial offerings with new services enabling new revenue streams; for banks, it helps in reducing cash handling and costs; for merchants, it helps to speed-up transaction time and generate more transactions," he adds.
Dominant payment service providers have already begun providing contactless payment services via mobile phones, while banks are also showing keen interest to jump on the NFC bandwagon, with trials underway.
"Ultimately, strong government support is going to be instrumental in driving uptake and making NFC and a cashless society a reality," Amin says. He cites Singapore's IDA (Infocomm Development Authority) as one such advocate; in February 2009, Singapore became the first country to give the go-ahead for the creation of a central Trusted Third Party (TTP) designed to deliver a fully interoperable, multi-application national NFC ecosystem.
Later, in April 2009, IDA announced the availability of funding to help grow the installed base of contactless terminals in food courts, coffee shops, fast food outlets, convenience stores, vending machines, and so on. In the early stages of NFC adoption, IDA expects the annual revenue from NFC mobile payments and advertising to amount to US$43 million for Singapore.