Visa's online initiatives division, e-Visa, is bullish about mobile commerce in Hong Kong and will launch a new online security service for merchants and users to enable e-commerce via mobile devices. Mark Burbidge, senior vice-president and general manager of e-Visa Asia Pacific, said e-Visa this year would launch a service called Verified by Visa, an SSL-based technology which would allow use of a personal password with a Visa card. So far, the company has signed up 30 banks and partners to market the new service to consumers. Users with eligible cards from participating banks need only look for the Verified by Visa logo on merchant sites to start using the service. Mr Burbidge said marketing activities for the service would start as early as May. According to research by Ovum and Visa, the e-commerce revenue forecast for the year is US$30 billion and mobile commerce US$10 billion. In 2004, the revenue forecasts for e-commerce jump to US$65 billion and mobile commerce to US$30 billion. 'There are 300 million mobile phone subscribers in Asia-Pacific. Hong Kong has 5.7 million mobile-phone subscribers. We think that this will be one of the most fertile markets for [mobile] commerce,' Mr Burbidge said. While trumpeting business to consumer e-commerce opportunities, he acknowledged education was needed to increase public confidence before online consumer commerce could take off. 'Most breaches of security are inside jobs and not online,' he said. 'The risks are actually higher in the physical world than the online world. What we are trying to solve here with Verified by Visa is the trust issue.' The Verified by Visa service allows users to input passwords to validate their identities during the checkout process. In time, Mr Burbidge said, the service would include other authentication methods such as biometrics which, he said, were still two to three years off. 'The trouble with current online security technologies like SET and PKI are that it is too complicated and consumers are not able to understand easily or remember how it works,' he said. He said Visa would stop using SET from October next year. Visa, MasterCard and their member banks face competition from non-banks - such as Amazon.com, eBay and Yahoo! - that have linked with technology firms to develop alternative online payment methods. Mr Burbidge said that the money in consumer e-commerce did not lie in groceries, books, compact discs or auction items, contrary to what many analysts had believed. 'I think that bill payment will be huge. Telecoms chalk up high costs for good locations in high-rental areas. The moment they can, [they] get consumers to pay for their bills using their mobile phones or through the Internet,' he said. Hutchison, Visa and Dao Heng Bank last month launched a service allowing subscribers to Hutchison's network to pay mobile-phone bills through their mobile phones. Mr Burbidge said it would not be 3G or 2.5G that drove e-commerce but short message service (SMS) through global system for mobile communications. 'This is something that can be done immediately and the technology works today,' he said. 'The telecoms [firms] are doing too much to build up expectations of 3G and not enough to find applications for SMS. The industry is too focused on the technology. If you give consumers enough of a value proposition, I think they will live with some limitations.' He predicted that wireless marketing where supermarkets such as Park 'n Shop pushed discount coupons down to consumers' mobile phones would become a popular application in North Asia.