Mobile Payments Are Taking Off. But Which One to Use?

Mobile payments system Boku just announced that it will work with a bevy of social networks and gaming sites. But competitor Zong, was recently chosen to pilot Facebook's virtual currency, called Credits. Both sites will face considerable opposition from Obopay, a seasoned startup that recently earned the backing of mobile phone giant Nokia for its Nokia Money payment system. Mobile payments are convenient, fast and easy—but which service should you use?

That depends on what you want to do. Mobile payments services work in two ways: some allow you to buy stuff from online retailers using your phone, while others allow you to send money to your friends. A couple of services do both. Here's the rundown.

If you're a worldwide user, it's hard to beat Boku's dead-simple setup and its 56-country availability. When you buy things online with Boku, you simply navigate to a participating site and punch in your cell phone number. You get a confirmation text, to which you reply "Y" to say yes to the charges. The sum then shows up on your cell phone bill. That's great for in-game purchases or retail items, but it doesn't let you send money to your peers.


Zong works similarly. The company got its start doing TV-based voting (think American Idol) in Europe, and then leveraged its carrier relationships to start the payments division. While Zong is only available in 19 countries, the company's been around for almost 10 years, which should be long enough to comfort any nervous adopters. Punch in your mobile number, confirm, and the charge appears on your bill. Again, this is only for paying for things online—not for spotting your friend a few bucks.

Obopay is more sophisticated, because it lets you actually send money to other individuals—not just online businesses. But that also means you need to create an account and charge it up with money, something that's not necessary on Zong or Boku. You can also use Obopay online, without a phone, and since it has partnered with Nokia, it'll have extensive worldwide availability before too long.


Not one to be left out, PayPal also has its own mobile payment system, and an iPhone app to boot. PayPal lets you send money either using a text message or its iPhone app, and in either case it will call you back after you enter your transaction so that you can confirm by entering your pin. Since PayPal is renowned for its aggressive security measures, there's no doubt that it is the most trustworthy of the bunch, but also the most subject to the hassles that come with high security. PayPal's fees are also among the more substantial, depending on how big an amount you're sending.


Amazon's Payments system also has a mobile iteration called Amazon TextPayMe, which allows Amazon members to pay (or request payment) using their Amazon accounts. Just like Zong and Boku, the whole process requires just a few text messages. The same system allows you to search and buy Amazon products with a feature called TextBuyIt, and like Obopay, there's a Web-based equivalent if you don't feel like messing with your phone to send someone money. You can also send someone a gift card using a text message, if you're of the ilk that likes to micromanage your recipient's spending. Overall Amazon's system is likely the best for most purposes: simple, secure and flexible, and with about as much simplicity as can be expected from something so capable. And chances are you have an Amazon account anyway.

One of the downsides of all these services is that you need to memorize text-message shorthand for each one. Most of the commands are simple, but with Amazon, for instance, things get a little complex when you're trying to request a payment from someone.

Amazon TextPayMe

Impossible? No. But if you still haven't figured out that ALT + F4 closes windows on your PC, then you might want to stick with PayPal's user friendly iPhone app.

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  • Olu

    In UK, Europe and some other markets these above companies piggy back off other companies who are Tier-1. i.e. directly connected to the carriers - like txtNation ( a tier-1 aggregator and Mobile Payments provider. For those shopping for rates it best to consider these type of companies first to get better margin.

  • Jason Hurlbut

    The problem is that most of these options are not broad based payment mechanisms. The mobile payment solution that leverages the customer's existing bank accounts is the key to widespread success in both P2P and Remote Mobile Purchases, thus the bank-centric model will win out... as long as they bring it to market soon enough!

  • Trace Johnson

    mPayy provides for secure online and mobile debit payments at &

    In addition to Person-to-Person and merchant payments, mPayy's broker model allows for marketplace websites to broker transactions between individual buyers and sellers, track those transactions, and take a small commission from the transaction fee.

    mPayy has an iPhone and an Android application in development, and publishes its API's for mobile developers to grab and utilize within applications they're publishing.

    For eCommerce merchants, mPayy integrates directly into their checkout paths seamlessly next to credit cards. mPayy's Secure Debit payments cut merchants' transaction costs and eliminate their fraud liability on each transaction.

    Trace Johnson
    VP, Product
    mPayy, Inc.

  • Ajay Singh

    I am from India, starting my e-business and would love to integrate mobile payment.

    Please help me to integrate and if possible I need to know few other things.


  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    In Kenya, Safaricom [40% owned by Vodafone] has enjoyed an outstanding even parabolic take up curve of its MPESA product, which is more of a peer to peer mobile money transfer product. By the way, if you care to track the Safaricom share price Level 1 prices you are welcome to register on my site for free and trading hours are 0930-1500 Kenya time. Go to RICHLIVE.

    I have found that in places where so many Folk are Unbanked, mobile payment applications have a much higher take up exactly because they are fulfilling a NEED. MPESA and the like are entirely disjunctive and seriously threaten the Banks. The Mobile Wallet is gaining real traction and your Readers would be wise to stay focussed on the 3rd World where Neccessity is indeed proving the mother of Invention.

    Aly-Khan Satchu
    Twitter alykhansatchu