Wireless Conference Atwitter With Cellphones That Do All

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LAS VEGAS (AdAge.com) -- The mobile phone took one step closer today to morphing into a mobile wallet as PayPal announced that the National Basketball Association, along with other entertainment marketers and even some charities, will accept payments via text-messaging over the cellphones.

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The new "text to buy" service was unveiled this morning during a keynote address at he CTIA Wireless 2006 conference here. “With the overwhelming popularity of mobile phones, the time has never been better for the merging of e-commerce and wireless devices,” PayPal President Jeff Jordan said.

'Lifestyle' phone
The new service is only the latest in a flurry of announcements spotlighting new uses for cellphones. Massao Nakamura, president-CEO of Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, yesterday said the Japanese giant is beginning to roll out a "lifestyle" mobile phone service called “FeliCa Service.” The so-called 4G, or fourth generation, wireless service will allow consumers to open doors at home, gain access to their place of work, pay for transit fares and utility bills, and check bank balances using only their cellphones. Mr. Nakamura said the wireless carrier is moving to become a credit card issuer to facilitate the service.

Marc Lefar, chief marketing officer of Cingular Wireless, the largest U.S. carrier, in an interview said there is some potential for making payments for digital products using PayPal or Visa, but that a true mobile wallet is a long way off. “What I don’t think you’re going to have real soon is this magical phone waving in front of the checkout line,” he said. “There is a simple reason for that. The customer only sees value in that when they can stop carrying the other wallet.”

It will take a long time for stores accepting mobile payments to reach critical mass, he said. “It is very, very difficult to get that level of uptake that creates the customer benefit,” he said. Besides, “It doesn’t save the customer any money. A credit card is pretty easy to carry. So while it can work, people aren’t screaming, ‘I’d like to pay for dinner tonight with my phone.’”

Mickey's new phone
Mickey Mouse, however, believes in a magical phone. Following Mr. Nakamura’s presentation, Mickey himself took the stage to unveil a mobile service from the Walt Disney Co. that comes with a number of groundbreaking features, such as a button that can show a mother where her children are and notifies her when they are exceeding their allotted phone minutes.

The conference, traditionally led by telecom companies, yesterday heard from a cable giant looking for a seat at the table. Glenn Britt, chairman-CEO of Time Warner Cable, in a keynote said that later this year the company will begin to test wireless service as part of its bundled offerings.

“The consumer is the reason cable is focused on wireless,” Mr. Britt told attendees from wireless, mobile and entertainment-related companies. He said cable companies are working toward the so-called quadruple play, offering consumers the benefit of one bill for discounted services. Bundles, he said, “add stickiness” and prevent “us from becoming a commodity.”

Benefit to marketers
Mr. Britt said some of Time Warner’s innovations will bring about benefits for marketers. Its “start over” feature will allow customers who miss the beginning of a show to see it from the beginning. It’s a benefit for the consumer, but also for broadcast networks and marketers because ads cannot be skipped, he said. “Advertisers are protected in terms of ratings.”

The situation also is a win-win for Sprint Nextel, which will carry Time Warner and other cable services, he said. “The future of the wireless business is very, very bright. But our future together is virtually limitless,” Mr. Britt said.

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