July 20, 2012 – Vodafone, KPN, Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING have abandoned their plan to create a joint venture to bring NFC to market in the Netherlands, by introducing a national mobile wallet service, but are continuing to work together to find an alternative way to introduce NFC services. In a statement released Thursday, ABN Amro, ING, KPN, Rabobank and Vodafone say the initial project plans proved „too costly and too long” to implement. It remains to be seen if the decision by the Dutch to scrap their joint venture plans will cause telcos in other countries to rethink their own plans.
„Developments in the market now offer capabilities that obviate the need to jointly develop a new business focus,” the statement reads. Initially slated for introduction in 2012, the scheme envisaged the use of NFC-based contactless technology and payment software located in a secure part of the SIM-card in the user’s phone.
Last year the consortium, dubbed Sixpack, set back their planned launch date until 2013 as they awaited the outcome of a European Commission investigation into Project Oscar, the proposed mobile payments JV from a group of UK telcos.
In disbanding the scheme, the project partners say they intend to engage in looser bilateral agreements that will be quicker to market. „The first priority remains the introduction of pay at the checkout with the mobile phone,” the statement concludes.
ABN Amro, ING, KPN, Rabobank and Vodafone are exploring a range of alternative ways to work together to introduce NFC services in the Netherlands, program director Wim Westerhof has told NFC World, in a bid to avoid the regulatory hurdles associated with forming a joint venture company.
Now, the five remaining partners have decided to cancel the original „Sixpack” plan „in its current form” and are instead looking at adopting a different, but still collaborative, business model.
The main reason for the change of direction was that the partners discovered that legal and competition issues meant that forming a joint venture company was „far more complex than we originally thought it would be,” Rabobank’s Wim Westerhof, program director for the Sixpack project, has told NFC World.
These issues led to delays in being able to form the joint venture, Westerhof explained. And, in the meantime, the market has moved on so that there are now new ways of achieving the original goals that the Sixpack partners can use to collaborate — without the need to jump through those regulatory hurdles.
The delays led to members of the Sixpack steering group asking „is there a possibility to do it in a different way?”, says Westerhof. This led the group to look at approaches such as that used in France’s Cityzi NFC service. There, rather than having one central trusted service manager (TSM) owned by a joint venture company, each mobile network operator and each service provider is able to appoint its own TSM.
With that kind of approach „we will still work together,” says Westerhof, but „we won’t need a joint venture any more.”
But, he adds, „we have not decided what we’ll do.” Bringing together a project like this „is very complicated. It is heavy. It is complex”. But, „we cannot do this by ourselves. We do need to cooperate. We have to do it together. Otherwise we won’t be able to create an infrastructure that’s good for everybody.”
The banks and carriers first announced plans to form a joint venture company, in conjunction with T-Mobile, in September 2010. T-Mobile dropped out of the plan in November 2011, however, saying that it planned to follow its own route to market.
In an announcement released yesterday, the parties said they would continue to “cooperate for the introduction of mobile-proximity payments” and still plan to launch NFC in 2013, as before with the Sixpack initiative. They said they would “discuss an appropriate governance structure for their cooperation.”
“(The) parties have come to the conclusion that this original plan to build a JV is too complex and requires too much time,” the group said in the statement. “Lately, developments in the market have removed the necessity to establish such a new company.”
The decision to drop the joint venture plans could mean the Dutch mobile-commerce players have decided it would be easier to form a less formal committee system, as French telcos, banks and other players have done. They could set technical standards and business rules for launches of NFC payment, ticketing and other applications this way. In France, telcos and service providers are planning to pursue NFC commercial rollouts individually.
It’s not clear whether the Dutch telcos and banks scrapped the idea for a joint venture in part because of uncertainty in obtaining approval from European Union regulators or whether–like T-Mobile Netherlands–the other Dutch telcos and the three banks didn’t see clearly how the venture would pay back their planned investments.
The parties to the planned Sixpack venture said in April that they took note of a decision announced by EU regulators to conduct an in-depth investigation of the proposed m-commerce joint venture, nicknamed Project Oscar, by the three largest mobile operators in the UK: Everything Everywhere, Telefónica UK and Vodafone UK.
An in-depth investigation by EU competition authorities is rare, but the European Commission’s competition directorate said it had “potential competition concerns” because of the dominant market share the three UK telcos together would hold. European Commission competition chief Joaquín Almunia is expected to issue his decision on the project in late August.
Despite opposition from a fourth UK telco and, reportedly, Internet players Google and PayPal, there are unconfirmed reports that Almunia will approve the proposed Project Oscar venture.
There are other joint ventures planned or already formed among European telcos and other mobile-commerce players, including four telcos in Sweden, which founded their 4T joint venture in June and have launched a mobile wallet. The Swedish telcos, whose lawyers determined they did not need to gain approval from Brussles for the venture, have obtained an e-money license through their joint venture. They plan to add NFC services and their own NFC-based payment application to the wallet platform next year.
Telcos in Germany, Denmark and Hungary, the latter with some other players, also have announced joint venture plans.
U.S. mobile carriers formed a joint venture in 2010 known as Isis. And telcos are leading joint ventures planned in other places, such as Taiwan and New Zealand.
The joint ventures in Europe and beyond generally plan to use the SIM as the secure element to store NFC payment and other secure applications and to hire a centralized trusted service manager to manage secure elements and, in some cases, to download and provision applications for service providers.
The joint ventures also would set other technical specifications and business rules for how NFC payment would be conducted and could offer a one-stop shop to enable merchants and other service providers wanting to put their applications in the NFC wallets the telcos would launch.
The Sixpack partners had originally thought they only needed approval from domestic competition authorities, but later determined they would have to get approval from EU antitrust authorities for their planned joint venture. This caused the group to move back their projected NFC launch date to early 2013 from an earlier target launch date of 2012.
Even without T-Mobile, the Dutch operators and banks would have controlled a dominant share of the relatively small market in the Netherlands. Together, ABN Amro, ING and Rabobank own about 90% of the Dutch banking market, and the two telcos, KPN and Vodafone, have a combined share of about 60% of the domestic mobile market.
This dominant market share–originally with three major telcos and three banks covering almost the entire Dutch market–had been one of the reasons for the formation of the Sixpack initiative–said backers. It meant Dutch consumers–whatever their operator or bank–would be able to use the NFC services, they said.
But the Sixpack organizers had also insisted that their NFC mobile-commerce platform would be open to other players.
The Dutch telcos and banks, which later named their consortium Travik, had announced the joint venture plans in September 2010. They were believed to have been planning the joint venture since at least 2009.
Despite T-Mobile Netherlands dropping out, the parties continued to refer to the project itself as Sixpack.
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