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Cha-Ching! Qualcomm Buys Into Mobile Banking

CDMA kingpin Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) is making its first foray into the mobile banking market with plans for a $210 million cash acquisition of software company Firethorn Holdings LLC.

Atlanta, Ga.-based Firethorn develops mobile payment and banking applications for mobile phones that allow users to transfer cash and access account information. The company already has a major partnership deal with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Firethorn's banking partners include Wachovia, SunTrust Bank, Regions Financial, BancorpSouth, Synovus and others. (See AT&T Offers Mobile Banking.)

Qualcomm has leapt into the mobile banking arena just as U.S. operators start to move beyond testing mobile banking systems and into commercial services. AT&T announced the Firethorn-developed banking application in March and plans to start loading the software on its handsets later this year.(See Cingular Plans Mobile Banking.)

Mobile payments systems currently tend to be more popular in other parts of the world than the U.S. The availability of cheap handsets and a lack of traditional banking infrastructure has driven the popularity of mobile payments systems in markets such as India and parts of Africa. Wireless banking systems are also now gaining acceptance in Europe and Asia. (See Redknee's Ready to Buy and Austrians Dig Mobile Payments.)

Analysts, however, now expect demand for mobile banking services to grow and to help drive future revenues for wireless operators.Juniper Research Ltd. expects mobile payments will generate transactions worth approximately $22 billion by 2009 (See Juniper Measures M-Payments.) Other companies in the mobile banking field include well-heeled startups such as Obopay Inc. , which has a deal with Verizon Wireless . It is also possible that other big names in tech such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) could also make moves in this fast-evolving market. (See Obopay Lands $29M and Google Moves on M-Payments.)

Qualcomm expects the acquisition to close within 30 days.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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