Telefonica brand O2 has finally launched O2 Money version two: O2 Wallet, a pre-paid wallet held in the cloud and accessible from any mobile phone, regardless of the model or network.
O2 Wallet is a cloud wallet from which one can transfer cash to any mobile number, in much the same way as Barclays' PingIt application, but O2 has wrapped in a high-street-gouging price-comparison service and bases its wallet on a prepaid account – so one has to give money to O2 before passing it on to anyone else. O2 still isn't allowed to handle cash itself, so a third party is underwriting the service, but at least it's free for end users – for the next six months at least.
O2 Wallet (Money version two) won't do pay-by-bonk, we'll have to wait for version three for that, but once a Wallet has been loaded with cash it can send money to any UK mobile phone number. If the recipient has an O2 Wallet account then the money is credited immediately, otherwise they get a message suggesting they register, after which they can transfer the cash somewhere more useful.
The shopping-comparison service is much as we've seen before: go to your favourite store and browse its shelves to find the thing you want, then scan the code and order the same product 10 pence cheaper online with the cost deduced from your O2 Wallet rather than your credit card – as would happen if you were using Amazon's equivalent ... while the physical store steadily goes bankrupt.
O2 Money version one was also a prepaid account, backed by NatWest Bank. Back in 2009, you were expected to provide a plastic card rather than a cloud-based account number (the card is an optional extra this time around) but the two companies fell out in 2010 and as O2 Money isn't a bank, the service was pulled. O2 is still waiting for its banking-light licence (the "Authorised Electronic Money Institution" certification) and has been hoping that NFC handsets would go mainstream in the meantime, but now it has gotten bored of waiting for either and launched a mobile wallet anyway.
That means a proper bank has to be involved, in this case IDT Financial Services Limited, but other than that the various parties are as described back in May 2011 when we were assured the service would go live by the end of that year. Since then O2 has got itself tied up in Project Oscar, the cross-operator platform for hosting pay-by-bonk apps, and parent Telefonica has been chucking money into Boku, which is the "preferred partner" for proximity payments.
O2 Money will, apparently, get pay-by-bonk in Wallet version three (this time it's personal), along with all the other NFC goodness, and the brand will certainly live on as O2 is committed to maintaining its "Money" branding, even if it's not pouring a fortune into promoting this new service. Barclays' PingIt service provides much the same functionality, only without the requirement to pre-load the service with cash, but if you're not a Barclays customer and really want to be able to send cash by SMS, then O2 Wallet is available now from the usual app stores and website. ®