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Verizon, American Express partner on mobile payments

Verizon customers will be able to make purchases on their phones by typing in their phone number.

Verizon Wireless and American Express said today that they're partnering to let customers order goods through their phone by typing in their phone number.

During the coming months, Verizon will start integrating American Express' Serve, a digital payment and commerce platform, into its phones and tablets. Unlike other initiatives, designed to let consumers pay by tapping their phone to a payment device at a store, Serve will let buyers make online purchases while on the phone.

It's just the latest step toward enabling phones to make payments, a white-hot field that's attracted a wide-ranging assortment of players with their own agendas. For American Express, this is the second partnership with a carrier, having announced a similar tie-up with Sprint Nextel last month. The credit card company, however, says the Verizon alliance is more extensive.

"The two of us coming together would make a powerful statement in terms of the advent of m-commerce coming to the forefront," Dan Schulman, president of enterprise growth for American Express, said, referring to mobile commerce.

Serve will use the phone's mobile number as an authentication tool, making it easier for customers to purchase items on their phone or tablet. All Verizon Wireless customers will be able to use Serve, which can use other credit cards or bank accounts. For physical purchases, American Express supplies a Serve card that is currently accepted by millions of merchants in the U.S. who accept American Express.

The companies will also work with start-up Payfone to provide the one-click checkout service. Last month, Verizon struck a partnership with Payfone to let customers make one-click purchases on phones with browsers. Both Verizon and American Express are investors in Payfone.

While Verizon is part of ISIS, a joint venture with AT&T and T-Mobile USA designed to create a nationwide tap-to-pay system for mobile phones, the carrier has been branching out on its own with different mobile payment initiatives. In addition to the Payfone and American Express deals, the company is working with BilltoMobile on allowing small online purchases that can be put on the cellphone bill.

Likewise, customers can make online purchases through Serve and have the payment sent to their cellphone bills, up to a limit. While BilltoMobile and Payfone have a $25 cap, Greg Haller, president of enterprise and government for Verizon Wireless, said they are still working on a limit for Serve. Any purchase above the limit would move to the Serve account, which would be paid through the customer's linked credit card or bank account.

There have been a wave of mobile-payment announcements in the last few months. The most high profile has been Google's initiative to start its own mobile wallet program in select cities this summer. It is partnering with Sprint, MasterCard, Verifone, and a number of retailers to get mobile payments rolling.

"There's a high demand from our customers," Haller said. "Research data shows a genuine interest in entering your number to pay. We think it will be very popular."

The American Express and Sprint partnership only allows Sprint customers to download the Serve application; it doesn't let them make purchases by typing in their phone number.