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Nokia Dials Up Mobile Payments

Consumers will be able to use their cell phones to send money to other people, pay for products, recharge prepaid SIM cards, and pay utility bills.

Nokia introduced a mobile payment service Wednesday that aims to make using your phone for financial services as easy as making a call or sending a sending a text message.

The service, known as Nokia Money, will be built upon a platform from mobile payment specialist Obopay, in which Nokia invested about $70 million in earlier this year. When it is rolled out in early 2010, it will enable consumers to use their handsets to send money to other people, pay for products in retail stores and online, recharge prepaid SIM cards, and pay utility bills. The platform will generate revenue by charging a transaction fee, and the amount will vary by region.

The world's largest cell phone maker is also trying to leverage its size and global relationships with wireless carriers to build out an ecosystem for the payment service. Nokia said it plans to have its service be interoperable with other payment systems in the future, and it is working to build a network of physical locations where users can deposit and withdraw cash from their accounts.

"Nokia Money is simple to use, secure, and available across different operator networks and on virtually any mobile phone," said Teppo Paavola, Nokia's VP of corporate business development, in a statement. "This means millions of new consumers will soon be able to manage all their financial needs from their mobile phone."

No specific markets have been identified, but it is likely emerging markets will be the targeted first because they are "underbanked" or "unbanked."

The potential market for mobile payment services is huge, as there are an estimated 4 billion mobile phone users, but only about 1.6 billion bank accounts. Because of the enormous growth potential, the field is becoming increasingly crowded with deep-pocketed companies like MasterCard and Visa, as well as well-funded startups trying to gain traction.

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