Shrouded amidst financial turmoil and the loss of thousands of employees, two top Canadian telecom players have joined forces to try to bring mobile commerce out of the shadows and into the limelight.
Toronto-based 724 Solutions Inc. and Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel Networks Inc. announced an alliance last month whereby the two companies will jointly offer solutions to enable wireless carriers to address m-commerce opportunities. The companies plan to integrate Nortel’s Network Gateway Server (NGS) and wireless infrastructure equipment with 724’s m-commerce technology to support the deployment of next-generation mobile banking, mobile shopping and an assortment of other mobile financial services.
724 m-commerce applications to be leveraged in the integration include 724 Frameworks (724 FW) and 724 Payments. According to the company, 724 FW is a software portfolio that provides server-side applications to extend transactions to wireless devices. It supports online shopping, brokerage and banking applications by supplying the interfaces for credit and debit card authorization, settlement reconciliation and private-label card processing.
724 Payments is a commerce solution built atop 724 FW to provide context-sensitive consumer and merchant interaction and payment completion, the company said. 724 has also developed 724 Alerts, which allows carriers to alert subscribers in a broad range of industry verticals, which, in conjunction with 724 Payments, can contain a “buy now” functionality.
“The core of 724’s strength is a transaction engine that allows customers to do things on any wireless device and have the security and the scale to manage the biggest financial institutions in the world,” said Greg Wolfond, chairman of 724. “Nortel has great presence with many of the carriers around the world and they are looking for some mobile commerce offerings that they don’t have to build. They have companies like us to build them.”
The news comes near the end of a tough year for both companies in which approximately half of the firms’ respective workforces have been given the pink slip.
724 – which has been targeting the financial services market – also recently announced that it has expanded its market focus to include m-commerce applications for the mobile operator market. Wolfond said this move was a natural progression, as financial institutions and telcos have many of the same requirements in terms of security, redundancy and scale.
As for Nortel, it is hoping its new partner’s expanded focus and new applications will help it differentiate itself as a provider of not only wireless infrastructure, but also of revenue-generating applications.
“M-commerce is one of the key areas, from a wireless service provider’s perspective, that we think  can extract value from and charge end users (accordingly), said Steve Paolini, director of strategic alliances, wireless networks for Nortel. “The network-facing part of (724’s) solution is really interfacing to financial and banking institutions. They provide the capability in the fashion we thought was the best combination of features and functionality to work with our own network equipment.”
At least one customer is guaranteed to be interested in the new joint offerings, and a fair-sized customer at that. Marnie Kinsley, executive vice-president of E-Business for the Bank of Montreal (BMO) in Toronto said the bank has been focused on core mobile banking and brokerage capabilities since 1999, all of which has been provided by 724. Kinsley said that in terms of things to come, BMO is largely interested in the capabilities of the 724 Alerts offering as a way to introduce wireless commerce to its clients.
“A lot of people have become very comfortable with telephone and Internet banking,” Kinsley said. “The next frontier is for them to use their [Research in Motion] BlackBerry or their mobile phone to get up-to-date financial status information. We think Alerts will do that because it [would act as] a reminder.”
Although BMO has been rolling out m-commerce applications to its clients for three years, Kinsley did admit that demand is still modest.
“It really does require a change in habits,” she said. “What we are trying to do is attract those familiar with the Internet onto a wireless device.”