Mobile payments worth $670 billion by 2015

Mobile payments have taken off in the last few years, and are now poised to grow from $240 billion this year to $670 billion worldwide in 2015, according to Juniper Research. Fueled in part by the nascent near field communication (NFC) market, which is expected to be worth $50 billion by 2014, the overall mobile payments market is also expected to rise quickly thanks to mobile ticketing, money transfers and purchases of physical goods.

Mobile payments are more reliant right now on digital goods purchases, which is expected to double by 2015 and will account for 40 percent of the market. But the faster growth will occur with NFC, which can be used in retail and merchant locations to buy physical items. Juniper said 20 countries are expected to launch NFC services in the next 18 months.

Developing countries may also help drive mobile payment growth. Markets that don’t rely as much on traditional credit cards and banks are ripe for new payment options. Remittances and money transfers can also be big in emerging nations. Juniper believes mobile payments in developing countries will double by 2013. However, the more mature markets of east Asia and China, western Europe and North America will represent 75 percent of mobile payment transaction value by 2015.

Forrester reported a few weeks ago that mobile payments will hit $31 billion in the U.S. by 2016. While it’s a decent annual growth rate of 39 percent between 2011 and 2016, it’s a more measured forecast compared to what Juniper’s predicting. Forrester believes that mobile commerce will still get going but at a slower pace as companies struggle to understand their mobile investments and how to integrate mobile into their sales operations.

I think the two research firms highlight the two sides of mobile payments. There’s paying for (often digital) goods online using a mobile phone, and then there’s the opportunity to use a phone as a real world wallet replacement. Though online commerce is where things have been most active in the mobile world, the real opportunity is to get into offline payments in the physical world. That is still an emerging market, but if companies like Square, PayPal(s ebay), Google(s goog), and a host of others are successful in convincing people to embrace mobile payments in stores, we could see them really take off.

Is it worth $670 billion? It’s looking more and more plausible. We reported last year that mobile payments was expected to bring in $633 billion by 2014. That’s a tall order, but as PayPal pointed out recently, it’s now expecting to process $3 billion in mobile payments this year, up from its $2 billion forecast in April. Square in May pushed past $3 million processed per day and it’s growing fast. The U.S. still lags behind in mobile payments compared to Asia. NFC still needs to mature here, and consumers and merchants need to be convinced the tech is worth the risk and investment. But things are starting to heat up, and these pie-in-the-sky forecasts are looking more attainable every day.