Qualcomm is preparing for the expected boom in the use of mobile phones for banking transactions, with the $210m cash acquisition of mobile banking operator Firethorn Holdings, which already has deals with many of the big US carriers.

The deal is designed to encourage financial institutions accelerate adoption of mobile banking services, such as viewing account balances and history, bill payments, and money transfers. It also aims to drive the development and delivery of mobile payments and mobile marketing services.

Atlanta, Georgia-based Firestone is the largest mobile banking provider in North America, and in the last month it has announced deals with AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Its financial institution partners include Wachovia, SunTrust Bank, Regions Financial, BancorpSouth, and Synovus.

Qualcomm president Len Lauer said the acquisition strengthens Qualcomm’s commitment to the emerging mCommerce marketplace and builds on a foundation established by Qualcomm Enterprise Services, a business unit focused on providing integrated wireless systems and services to businesses around the world.

Firethorn describes itself as a mobile banking services enabler that links financial institutions and wireless operators through a secure platform that extends full-service banking capabilities to consumers.

Its biggest competitor is London, UK-based mobile banking software provider Monitise which claims that one in three current account holders in the UK can now access its Monilink service across any of the major mobile networks. Its service will also be available to customers of a number of US financial institutions before the end of 2007.

The market has attracted start-ups such as mFoundry, a San Francisco, California-based company which says its Spotlight financial platform has cross-carrier support running on Java, BREW, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry devices across all major US wireless carriers. It has attracted financial support from Motorola and NCR.

From New Zealand, Fronde Anywhere is pushing its mobile banking and authentication technology in Europe and North America.

Kingston-upon-Thames-based FE Mobile said its 50KB SecureLink fits on the smallest Java phone. It said SecureLink has been downloaded in 17 countries in five different languages and can accommodate double byte Asian characters and is multi-currency.

Our View

Now that Qualcomm has moved into the market, other big companies will be running the rule over these smaller players.