The long road for mobile payments

With the excitement building around near field communication (NFC) mobile payments, it seems like paying by phone is about to turn a corner. But it’s helpful to remember that this is part of a long process that goes back over a decade.

American Express (s axp) has worked up an infographic charting the rise of mobile payments, hitting many of the highlights as consumers increasingly were able to use their phones to buy things. Paying by SMS for things like ringtones started back in the 1990s and even the concept of using a phone as a wallet emerged a decade ago. NFC actually made its debut on phones in 2005 with Nokia, (s nok) though it took several years for contactless payment trials to begin in the U.S.

Now, mobile payments are worth $240 billion worldwide, and 95 percent of people in 30 countries have made purchases through their mobile phones.

I asked David Messenger, executive vice president and head of American Express’ Online and Mobile business unit, about where he sees mobile payments going in 2012 and beyond. He said mobile payments are poised to enter the mainstream next year after a lot of work to establish a foundation for payments including NFC. Said Messenger:

People are using their phones for so much more than they used to and using it for payments and transactions. There is an opportunity to leverage mobile payments to break down the barriers in payments and commerce and move from cash to digital. The whole world of digital payments will be big battleground. It’s huge stakes here for both merchants and consumers.

Messenger said a lot will come down to merchants, who will want a way to move forward with payment solutions that don’t lock them into specific technologies that aren’t inter-operable with other systems. He said it will be important for Google Wallet (s goog), Isis and others to settle on standards for NFC to ensure that merchants can make investments with confidence.  Next year will be a big year as consumers and merchants get a better sense of mobile payments and learn first hand what really works, he said.

The rise of NFC in particular won’t happen overnight, and if this infographic shows us anything, it’s that we should expect change to evolve over time. But there does seem to be  a lot of pieces falling into place to make paying by phone a reality for many consumers.

Take a look at the infographic: