Can the banks break the the smartphone payments deadlock?

More than half of the UK consumers now have a smartphone but interest in mobile payments remains limited - because of fragmented infrastructure.

Mobile payments is slowly edging forward in the UK but for most it's still a technology in search of a problem.

Research from payments provider VocaLink said that growing smartphone ownership was driving interest in using the devices for mobile payments: in a survey of 10,000 UK adults, it found that 60 percent of UK consumers now used a smartphone and 20 percent had used mobile payments (with another 30 percent being interested in doing so).

Younger smartphone users are more likely to be mobile payment early adopters (41 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds) and around half of those who are not already using their smartphone to pay for goods and services are interested in doing so.

Still, mobile payments remains fragmented . Mobile payments are currently used on an ad hoc basis in a range of situations and no technology consistently attracting more than an handful of users.

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For example, six percent of those surveyed said they used thier mobile to send money to friends and family, five percent used it to pay for parking and three percent used their smartphone for buying groceries in supermarkets.

While the technology (a combination of NFC and payment apps) to allow consumers to pay with their phones has existed for some time, it stubbornly refuses to become mainstream as the various players have yet to agree on standards and business models.

VocaLink's research suggests that it is banks that are best placed to be the trusted providers of a ubiquitous mobile payments service, with 35 percent of respondents more likely to pay for items using their mobile phone if it was provided by their bank (although handset makers and credit card companies would also like a slice of the action, and are also likely to have a major say in how the market develops).

Paul Stoddart, VocaLink's managing director of strategy and business development, said that for widespread adoption, banks would require retailers and telecoms companies to create the necessary infrastructure for the service to really take off.

"The UK is now ready, willing and able to make mobile payments creating an exciting market opportunity for companies willing to collaborate to provide a ubiquitous and trusted solution," he said.