The prospects for mobile payments are looking up. In one initiative, Facebook is looking to expand its virtual currency system to cell phones through a new service it's testing that would let users enter their mobile number rather than credit card information to buy Facebook Credits or virtual goods.
According to Inside Facebook, the social network is working with mobile payments provider Zong on a test allowing a small number of users to sample the mobile payment option in its virtual gift shop.
Facebook recently began letting third-party developers sell items in its online store and allowing developers accept Facebook Credits as a form of payment for virtual or physical goods. The push into mobile promises to further open Facebook's alternate payment routes -- to teens and others without credit cards as well as users outside the U.S., whom make up 70% of the site's 250 million members.
There is a catch, though. Inside Facebook points out that Facebook Credits-which typically sell at 10 cents per credit--are twice as costly via mobile because wireless carriers charge high commissions for premium SMS payments in the U.S.
Separately, Nokia Wednesday announced the launch of Nokia Money, a new service allowing users in emerging markets to handle basic mobile transactions including person-to-person transfers and merchant and bill payments.
With 4 billion mobile phones but only 1.6 billion bank accounts worldwide, Nokia envisions growing demand for financial services provided via cell phone. Developed with mobile payment company Obopay, Nokia Money aims to fill that role by offering access to banking and payment services across different wireless networks and mobile devices globally. The new offering will be rolled out in select markets starting in early 2010.
With the world's biggest mobile phone maker and biggest social network getting behind new mobile payment, mobile commerce may be headed for a long-awaited growth spurt.