The Conference Season Is Now In Full Swing

The Conference Season Is Now In Full Swing
It’s that time of the year when many of us are on the road. September to November is usually a very busy time with conferences and industry events. Of course, it’s a great way to meet our clients and prospects, other industry experts, and learn from attending the sessions and presentations. Usually, someone from Celent is at all the major events – for example, a few of my colleagues have attended SIBOS and wrote about it on this blog. In this post, I wanted to discuss the events that are keeping me busy over the next month of so. Last week I was at EFMA Retail Payments Week. As always, it was a great event and I wanted to extend my thanks to the organizers for inviting me again to speak. I presented my research on lessons from launching NFC payment solutions, which judging from comments and discussions after the presentation was well received by the audience. NFC payments was an important theme throughout the conference. While NFC is really struggling to take off in the US, there still seems to be a significant level of activity and interest in Europe. However, I was actually somewhat surprised at how strongly a clear message was coming through many conference presentations – even in Europe, banks are starting to lose patience with MNOs and are beginning to give up on the idea of collaborating. Instead, they are launching contactless cards (the good old plastic), and are exploring alternative approaches to mobile payments (secure element in the cloud, payments directly from the bank account, etc.) I am convinced that we will see NFC-based mobile payments in Europe in due course, but I suspect most of the solutions will be driven by mobile operators, with very selective participation from banks. I am getting on the plane tomorrow to go to Money2020, which again promises to be a very interesting show. I will be moderating a panel discussion titled The World of Payments Meets the World of Marketing, continuing the debate around how payments transaction data can be used effectively to the benefits of consumers, merchants and financial institutions. I will also be presenting at the ATM, Debit and Prepaid Forum, where I will be asking the question whether the retailers can ignite mobile at the POS. Given that NFC models haven’t taken hold, and open wallets such as Google Wallet continue to struggle, I will be arguing that retailer apps might actually be the ones that spark adoption of mobile payments. On the morning of October 17th, we are hosting a Banking Roundtable discussion in London on The Future of the Bank Account. It is a confidential, bank-only forum, with an emphasis on idea exchange. We already have a strong roster of registered participants, but there are still a few places available. If you work for a bank and would like to find out more, please contact Todd Carter (tcarter@celent.com) or Chris Williams (cwilliams@celent.com). Finally, most of the Celent’s Banking team will be at BAI Retail Delivery in Denver. So, if you are going to any of these events, don’t hesitate to drop us a line so that we could arrange to meet. Look forward to seeing you!

Would You Rather Check-in Or Check-Out?

Would You Rather Check-in Or Check-Out?
You know the drill – you go into the store, select your goods, and take them to the cashier to check out and pay. What if we flipped the process on its head and you started with a check-in instead? You come to the store and your phone announces your arrival. The merchant knows you are here and is able to communicate with your phone as you move around the store, providing relevant information, such as product details, stock availability and special offers. When you see something you like, you just add it to your virtual shopping basket and when you are done, you simply leave (most likely, after you’ve demonstrated to someone that the contents of your shopping bag correspond to the items in your virtual basket.) What about payment? Well, the payment simply happens in the background based on your registered preferences (e.g. a card). Forget NFC, EMV and other complex buzzwords. We already highlighted this as a potential future scenario in our report on Digital Wallets last year. A number of announcements in the last 10 days or so indicate that this future might be closer than we think. Both Apple and PayPal announced new developments based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, iBeacon and Beacon respectively. The Beacons are essentially small devices that merchants can put around their stores. These devices then use BLE technology to communicate with other devices, such as Bluetooth compatible phones. Their energy consumption is very low and they don’t need Wi-Fi or a phone signal to work. Most excitingly, with built-in micro-location geo-fencing features, Beacons can enable new applications in indoor mapping. For example, iBeacon supports “enter” and “exit” events, so it can send different notifications while entering into the range and exiting out of the range. BLE has been touted for some time as NFC killer, and it’s easy to see how it can replace the NFC payment (NFC in card-emulation mode). Of course, NFC is also simply a communications technology (peer-to-peer mode), so BLE will also be competing with NFC tags. BLE devices are more expensive than NFC tags (~$30-50 vs $0.10), but their communication range is much bigger (up to 50 metres vs ~4cm), so the merchant would need fewer of them. It may be a coincidence, but there were further bad news to the “NFC camp” in the last few days in the US. First, Capital One, one of the three issuers that supported the Isis pilot (Chase and Amex were the other two), announced it would be withdrawing from Isis. Then, Google Wallet announced its new app with many new features, such as P2P payments. The app will be available to all Android phones, including those running on MNOs other than Sprint. While Sprint was the original and the largest MNO partner, Google Wallet has since rolled out to a number of smaller networks, including Virgin Mobile, US Cellular and Metro PCS, so technically it was available to more than one MNO, just not the 3 large giants behind Isis. The new app doesn’t change that – if you want to use NFC payments at the POS, it will still only work with selected handsets on Sprint and those other MNO partners. However, to me this is another indication that Google Wallet is re-focusing its attention on e-commerce, P2P, and other payment use cases, just not physical POS payments. I also thought the announcement on offers was interesting, as the wallet allows the customer to capture the offer irrespective of where it comes from and present it for scanning at the POS. The significant shifts here are the expansion of the universe of available offers and the fact that you don’t need NFC and tapping to get them redeemed, both of which could important catalysts for increased usage of the wallet. Mobile payments never cease to be exciting and interesting. Integration of BLE technology could be a game-changer for the industry.

Isis Promises National Roll-out, Partners with Amex

Isis Promises National Roll-out, Partners with Amex
Arguably, it is fair to say that Isis, a mobile wallet from the leading US mobile network operators, has so far attracted more criticism than admiration. Its launch was marred with delays, as the company made changes to its business model and kept refining the solution. It finally did launch with pilots in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah in October last year and while the company would not release customer numbers, it did say recently that “on average, active Isis Mobile Wallet users tap more than 10 times per month.” Last week Isis announced a national roll-out scheduled for later this year. That raised a few eyebrows as most of us know the challenges associated with deploying NFC technology in many markets, and especially the US. While there are increasingly more NFC phones available in the market and Isis promised iPhone support (most likely, via a special case), the issue of NFC-capable POS terminals remains. And if anything, that issue potentially just got bigger after the added uncertainty over debit fee caps, network routing and, subsequently, EMV (see my earlier blog.) Then today came another announcement which hinted how Isis was going to address the NFC issue – by partnering with American Express and incorporating Amex Serve platform into its wallet. To me this sounds like an attractive deal for both parties. Amex Serve was one of the first of the new breed of digital wallets to market, although it hasn’t really taken off (so far) as a standalone proposition. Amex’s decision last year to partner with Wal-Mart in launching Bluebird was in part due to the desire to better utilize the Serve platform and the underlying technology. Isis gives Serve another route to market. At the same time, Serve enhances Isis wallet by making it more universal – it is no longer just a retail POS solution, but a wallet that can be used for other purposes as well, such as online or P2P payments. The irony, of course, is that the piece of technology which reduces dependency on NFC and enables broader set of use cases is the good old plastic card linked to the Serve account. We’ll see if Isis is able to deliver national roll-out this year; after all, they have missed most of their own deadlines so far. But the latest deal with Amex has the potential to change that track record.

The Relentless Drive of Payments Innovation

The Relentless Drive of Payments Innovation
I just came back from three weeks of being on the road. I ran a workshop on merchant-funded rewards at Merchant Payments Ecosystem event in Berlin, presented on mobile payments at Celent’s own (and very successful!) Insight and Innovation Day in Boston last week, and managed to squeeze a holiday on the snow in between. While I was away, there were a lot of interesting news and announcements in the mobile payments space, particularly last week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. As I was catching up on all the latest developments, I wanted to share a few announcements that especially caught my eye. 1. MasterCard introduced MasterPass, the “future of digital payments.” According to the company, MasterPass is “a digital service that allows consumers to use any payment card or enabled device to discover enhanced shopping experiences that are as simple as a click, tap or touch – online, in-store or anywhere”, and represents an evolution of PayPass Wallet Services, itself announced only last year. At first glance, MasterPass appears to be a solution to bridge the chasm I was describing between online and offline payments in my recent digital wallets report. While the initial focus remains on e-commerce and online/ remote transactions, MasterCard was apparently demoing how MasterPass can be used for proximity payments with QR codes on posters and even TV. Naturally, MasterCard will want to make sure it also works well with PayPass contactless to be a truly universal solution, but the direction is definitely encouraging. 2. Visa introduced Visa Ready Partner Program “designed to accelerate the introduction of innovative payment solutions globally and further drive the global migration from cash to electronic payments.” The program has two main components: the existing program for the approval of mobile NFC-enabled devices, and a new one for Mobile Acceptance (mPOS) Solutions. Ingenico’s ROAM is the first partner to participate in the mPOS solutions program. However, it was the announcement of a new deal between Visa and Samsung under the NFC program that I found particularly interesting. Future NFC-enabled Samsung phones will come with Visa’s PayWave applet and pre-certified to work with Visa’s payment system. Another important feature is the new NFC integration allowing banks and others to launch mobile payment services using Visa’s new Mobile Provisioning Service to download payment account information to the devices. This has the potential to simplify the existing complex process of provisioning payment accounts to secure elements, one of the barriers for widespread NFC adoption today. 3. Bankinter in Spain also announced a new way to circumvent secure element hassle for mobile NFC payments. Their customers will need an app on their NFC-enabled phones, and then, instead of using a secure element from a handset manufacturer or network operator, the customer will temporarily download virtual one-time use replicas of their physical credit or debit card every time they make a payment. The service was developed with Visa Europe, Net1 UEPS and Seglan. While such a solution clearly puts the bank in control of mobile payments, it relies on ubiquitous network connectivity and ability to download a virtual token before a payment can be made, which may not be practical in all circumstances. There were more news in the start-up world, from Stripe entering the UK to PayPal co-founder Max Levchin launching a new payments venture Affirm focused on streamlining the mobile checkout process. All of which only confirms that there is no respite when it comes to innovation in mobile payments.

NFC Payments: Still for Patient Payments Geeks Only

NFC Payments: Still for Patient Payments Geeks Only
Recent launch of the iPhone 5 made me decide that it was time to upgrade my old iPhone 3GS. I knew I was going to stay with my current telco provider (Orange, or as they are now known, EE), so I just went into an Orange shop to discuss my options. To cut a long story short, instead of buying a new iPhone 5, I ended up getting Samsung Galaxy S3. Among the reasons for getting an S3 was the fact that it was one of a small but growing number of NFC handsets in the UK market and I knew that Barclaycard and Orange have just made their Quick Tap wallet available on the S3 and I was keen to try it. Here are some observations based on my first-hand experience: 1. Telcos could and should do a much better job at marketing the new services, such as NFC, and need to ensure that their front-line staff are properly trained. An example of my conversation with an Orange salesman: – Me: “This (S3) does have NFC, doesn’t it?” – Salesman: “NFC?? Oh, I am not too sure, let me check.” … – Me: “And how do I sign up to the Quick Tap wallet?” (followed by me explaining to him what a Quick Tap wallet is) – Salesman: “Oh, I think you probably have to call Barclaycard to get it set-up, I don’t really know.” As it happens, both Orange and Barclaycard websites had a description of the wallet, but I didn’t see any links or suggestions how to obtain it. Finally, I downloaded the app from Google’s PlayStore and followed the relatively straightforward steps in the app to register and link a card. Only when I got home I realised that my phone packaging box had a sticker on it saying “Hold your phone here to get started with Quick Tap”, but I didn’t notice it at the time and the salesman didn’t point it to me either. In other words, I knew what I wanted and was able to get it; someone less determined than me may not even realise their phone had these capabilities. 2. The experience of using NFC seemed to get better over time. Armed with my new mobile wallet, I set out to try paying with it (you see, unlike a “normal” customer, I actually think about payment!) I went to my local town (Bromley) and into the Boots store, as I knew it was one of the early adopters of contactless terminals. My suggestion that I was about to pay with my mobile phone was met with visible excitement from the cashier staff – there was no queue, so two of them came over to take a look, saying “How exciting! We’ve seen contactless cards, but not the mobile phone payments yet!” However, the first transaction was actually quite painful – I touched the phone against the terminal and nothing happened; I thought perhaps I needed to log-in to the app (the answer is, I don’t), so I did that, and the result was the same. Finally, after a few times of trying, there was a beep and much to our relief, the transaction went through. However, the second transaction was better (only took a few taps) and the third onwards have been absolutely smooth – literally, “tap and go”. I don’t think I was doing anything different and I even went back to the same merchant, so perhaps the phone needed “to go through the motions” to properly activate the NFC chip? Again, I am a patient geek and I want this to work, so I persevere; the question is, how many “normal” customers would have had the courage to try it again if their first transaction was anything like mine. 3. There are more merchants accepting contactless than we think, but they could do a better job telling us about it. I knew I would be able to pay contactless at Boots, Pret-a-Manger and a few other well publicised merchants. I was positively surprised that I could actually pay in a lot more places than that, including small independent merchants, such as my local independent CD store and my local fishmonger. The “where you can pay” feature inside the Quick Tap wallet showed that even a cafe at my Virgin Active gym was accepting contactless. More visible signs of contactless acceptance at the counters would be helpful though – some terminals are obviously different, but others look just like regular card terminals, so I couldn’t really tell if I could use my phone without asking about it. 4. Merchant cashier staff are crucial to shaping customer opinions and should become “the ambassadors” for new technology to succeed. When buying breakfast and coffee this morning at Pret-a-Manger I again tapped the phone to pay, the cashier’s response stunned me – “Do you realise that if someone gets hold of your phone, all your money is gone?”, he asked me. After I regained my speech, I said, “is this what you tell all your customers?” Unfortunately, the overly emphatic “No!!!” could only mean, “yes, I do”… How does that help the already security-anxious consumer? Overall, I’ve enjoyed tapping my phone over the last few days. Having said that, more often than not I reached for my actual wallet only to remember to take out my phone (old habits die hard!) While the experience now is easy – literally, “tap and go”, it’s not really a step change from paying by card. And there are no additional services for now, other than the summary of transactions I get on the phone. It’s enough to excite my inner payments geek, but my experience seems to suggest that we are still some time off from a mass market adoption of NFC.

And in the NFC Corner: Casino Supermarket in France

And in the NFC Corner: Casino Supermarket in France
Just as Apple was announcing that its latest iPhone 5 would not include NFC (see my previous blog), NFC World reported that Casino, a large supermarket chain in France announced opening the “world’s first NFC-enabled supermarket.” The products would have NFC tags, which could be scanned by customers with their NFC-enabled phones in order to get product details, add items to the shopping basket, and, ultimately, check out at the till. So, how significant is this for NFC payments? While the Casino supermarket talks about enabling NFC payments in the future, at the moment its focus is on using NFC tags to provide information about the products and to scan the items to add to the shopping basket. These are two distinct and valid uses of NFC technology, both of which have been implemented in the past, with NFC and without. Last year, Museum of London has partnered with Nokia to deploy NFC tags so that visitors with NFC phones could enrich their experience and get more information about the objects they see. Scanning items to add to the shopping basket has also been done before:
  • The UK supermarket chain Tesco had a big success in Korea with its virtual shop displays in the train stations, which allows commuters to scan the items they want with their phone and have purchases delivered to their home. QR technology was used there instead of NFC.
  • In the US, Wal-Mart has just announced a phone app which would allow the shoppers to “scan & go”.
  • And in the UK, Sainsbury’s has had a way for shoppers to scan items as they load them into a shopping trolley for a few years now. Once registered, the shopper can take one of many available portable barcode scanners at the entrance and scan the item before putting it in the trolley. When done with shopping, they go to a dedicated lane and don’t have to scan their items again – just present the scanner to the register for the total, and check out in a normal way. To “encourage honesty”, there are random checks when you might be asked to re-scan all the items as you would at a regular till. Personally, I tried it a couple of times, and found that I didn’t like having to carry around the scanner (the phone would not have made any difference) and always think about scanning every item as I put it into my trolley for the sake of saving a few minutes at the checkout. It would be interesting to see some statistics; anecdotally, I see some people using it, but it must be single digit percentage of shoppers.
My point is that the emphasis here is less on payments, but more on the shopping/ retailing experience and while NFC might be a valid technology to improve that experience, there are many other ways to achieve the same objective.

So Now We Know For Sure – No NFC in iPhone 5

So Now We Know For Sure – No NFC in iPhone 5
Yesterday Apply confirmed what many of us speculated on for months – iPhone 5 would not have NFC capability. It’s a beautiful phone – slim, elegant, with many attractive features, and no doubt will sell very well in the market. However, the payments industry was mostly interested in the question of NFC – “will they or won’t they?” The answer matters because as the single most popular smartphone, iPhone has significant power to influence the market sentiment. The inclusion of NFC would have been seen as an important endorsement of technology and would surely have given impetus to NFC deployments around the world. The fact that Apple chose not to include NFC keeps the questions open about what technologies will ultimately prevail when it comes to exchanging payments credentials and other information at the POS. Apparently, there are two main reasons for not including NFC at this stage. The first is that the focus this time was very much on getting the phone as slim as possible and NFC would have detracted from that. As laudable as that objective is, I think it is the second explanation that was the determining factor – Apple didn’t see the need at this time. Apple’s Senior VP Phil Shiller was reported saying that “Passbook does the kind of things customers need today”. Apple are known for only including technologies in their products that they believe would be widely adopted and used by the customers right away. And, as we all know, NFC today suffers from not being “immediately useful” given the lack of capable terminals and other relevant infrastructure. Just to be clear, (as far as I know), Apple has not made a statement that they would not support NFC in the future. However, it is a statement that the ecosystem needs to develop further before Apple decides to throw its weight behind NFC.

Google Wallet Relaunches and Takes on PayPal at Its Own Game

Google Wallet Relaunches and Takes on PayPal at Its Own Game
They say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In my report last year I contrasted Google Wallet and PayPal as representatives of two fundamentally distinct approaches seeking to win in the battle to bring mobile payments to the high street. Not anymore – having failed to ignite the market in the first 12 months and its first incarnation, Google Wallet re-launched yesterday with a revised approach, essentially taking a leaf out of PayPal’s book. Unlike PayPal, the “Google Wallet 2.0” will continue to focus on NFC technology. However, instead of storing all the payment credentials on the secure element inside the phone, it is moving most of them into the cloud, leaving inside the phone only a prepaid account, which is based on MasterCard’s PayPass and can be used anywhere where PayPass is accepted. The prepaid account is linked direcly to any of the debit or credit payment cards (MasterCard, Visa, Amex, Discover), which the customers can register themselves, just like they would register a card as a funding source for a PayPal account. More details on the new Google Wallet here. So, what does this mean and who are going to be the winners and losers? It’s early days, of course, but here are some of my preliminary thoughts:
  • Consumers, Google and payment networks, especially MasterCard, are likely to emerge as the winners here. Consumers are now in control and can register and manage their cards directly with Google, independent of their banks. They will have to learn to trust Google, which has some work to do to re-establish its image after the initial security concerns. However, as and when consumers come on board, this will be good news for Google and its card partners.
  • While Google continues to stick with NFC for the “last mile” technology, MNOs will continue to have a say in this game. However, this set up now lays the ground for Google to potentially decide to bypass the secure element, and the MNOs, in the future altogether.
  • The impact on banks is likely to be mixed. Most banks didn’t want to play with Google when it was offering the opportunity to digitalise their payments credentials directly and remain in control of the payments portion of the transaction. Now, while the bank cards will continue to be part of the transcation, they are clearly taking the back seat and will have to deal with Google as a “merchant of record” for their transactions. True, they won’t have to incur the extra costs of provisioning their card credentials on to secure element, but that would also rule them out from participating in other NFC ventures, such as Isis.
  • The biggest unknown is the impact on merchants. And that’s because the transaction economics are no longer obvious for Google Wallet and is a question I am most keen to find out more about. In the initial set-up Google was clear that they would not take a cut on the payment transaction and the merchant would have paid a standard fee depending on the card used. Now, from the merchant point of view, they are accepting a prepaid MasterCard, while it might an Amex card that actually funds the transaction. PayPal deals with it by having direct acquiring relationships with its merchants and offering them a discount rate which represents an expected blend of funding transactions. Does it also mean that Google Wallet will have to establish relationships with the acquirers to re-coup from merchants any potential differences in transaction costs? Or will it have to charge the end user for “loading” their wallet, something that other prepaid card providers do for card-based re-load transactions?
It’s Day 1 after re-launch and, naturally, there are more questions than answers. Only time will tell how successful Google Wallet 2.0 will be, but for now it feels like a step in the right direction, at least from Google’s perspective.

Payments and the London Olympics

Payments and the London Olympics
It’s less than two weeks until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The Olympic spirit is already in the air in London with all sort of preparations entering their final stages. A section of M4, a major motorway connecting the West of the UK with London was closed for a few days last week causing havoc – all to make sure it can cope with the increased traffic from Heathrow. No doubt, London will be ready to welcome thousands of athletes and guests that will be arriving from next week. If only the weather would be more welcoming as it’s been a terrible summer so far – chilly, rainy and windy… There has been an increased interest from our clients and press in the Olympics-related payments topics as well. Is Visa right in monopolising payments for the Olympics? Will all those who receive Samsung Galaxy S III NFC phones to try out new NFC payments be aware of the potential security risks? And why were the ambitious plans to upgrade the London transport infrastructure to accept NFC delayed? Indeed, as a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics, Visa is investing heavily in payment innovations, such as NFC and contactless and promoting its brand. The Olympic tickets could be paid for only with a Visa card – not that big of a deal in the UK, as most UK debit cards are now issued under Visa brand, but I imagine, a bit of a nuissance for those in other countries who may not have a Visa card. Most recently, the press reported Visa requesting that the existing ATMs in the Olympic Village, which would have accepted all Link cards, were switched off and replaced with eight new machines which would only accept Visa cards. While no one disputes Visa’s right to certain privileges as a major sponsor, it is arguably not the most elegant way to endear your brand to the users. Also, Visa and Samsung, another worldwide Olympics sponsor, have started distributing 1,000 Samsung Galaxy S III NFC phones with a Visa payments app to key stakeholders and decision makers for use during the Olympics. All POS terminals at the Games will be able to accept Visa PayWave contactless payments and the distribution of phones is expected to help promote wider adoption of NFC and contactless services. Those with a chance to try out the new app are reporting favourable first impressions. However, there was also a lot of buzz around a recent blog from McAfee, a security software firm, which (perhaps not that surprisingly) warned about the potential security risks, particularly if the hackers used the so-called “fuzzing” technique. My personal view is that while these risks are real, the organisers are busy making sure they address much bigger and more immediate security concerns around the Olympics. It’s only natural that many people will find their own relevant angle to the Olympics. However, I am sure London 2012 will not be remembered for what it did or did not do for payments. Lets hope it is remembered for all the right reasons – sportsmanship, passion, spectacle and lasting legacy. Let the games begin and lets enjoy them!

Never Ending Excitement in Digital Payments

Never Ending Excitement in Digital Payments
It’s official – I can’t go on holiday anymore. Or at least, not if I want to keep up with all the interesting developments in digital payments. Vacation and business travel conspired to keep me out of the office for nearly 3 weeks and in that time, there were important announcements from Apple, Microsoft and Facebook. And that’s just the highlights – there plenty more. No, don’t worry, I am not under any illussions of grandeur that good folks at Apple or Microsoft are checking my holiday schedule to time their announcements. But it does highlight the incredible “blink and you’ll miss it” pace of developments in payments. Having kept everyone on their toes about their plans in payments, Apple has recently announced a Passbook app. While the idea at the moment is to store various “passes”, such as boarding passes, store cards, and movie tickets in one place, I do agree with others who view it as the first step towards the development of a full-scale mobile wallet. It is perhaps telling that one of the early examples of “passes” is a payments app – a Starbucks card which automatically appears on the phone screen when the customer walks into a store. For now, such a use of geolocation technology to automatically display passes is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the app. It remains to be seen what Apple does in payments more broadly. I and many others have long noted the potential for iTunes to become a payments wallet given the ever growing number of cards registered there (400 million seems to be the latest number.) However, despite multiple patents around NFC technology, Apple continues to be silent on its plans (or lack of) around NFC. One of the companies annoucing recently that it would be embracing NFC was Microsoft. At an event about its upcoming Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system, Microsoft said that it would be supporting NFC with a SIM card-based secure element. It will also include a new wallet app that will store credit and debit cards as well as loyalty and membership cards. As somebody said on the internet, Microsoft is taking on Google and Apple, while keeping the telcos happy. Orange, which is the launch MNO partner for the Wallet, praised the SIM move and said it was “important that Microsoft has aligned with the recommendations of the telco trade body, the GSMA, on the issue.” Perhaps the most surprising recent announcement was also the one with the least fanfare. Facebook posted on its developer blog that it would be dropping its virtual currency Facebook Credits in favour of local currency pricing. The phenomenal rise of Facebook Credits in recent years made many in the industry wary of potential implications of an unregulated global currency gaining mass adoption. However, while the central bankers looking after fiat currencies might breath a sigh of relief, I don’t think the new announcement means that Facebook is giving up on its ambitions in payments. In fact, it’s likely to be the opposite – by transforming its Credits platform into a localised standard-currency payments platform Facebook is positioning itself for opportunities beyond its own ecosystem. Add Facebook Connect as a solution for the identity problem on the net into the mix, and the opportunities become really interesting. Lithuanians have a proverb, “a silent pig digs the deepest root.” The quietest of the announcements here may yet prove to have the most far reaching consequences. What do you think of all this?