Bharti Airtel Ltd. has become the first mobile operator in India to receive a license from the Reserve Bank of India to offer mobile-payment services, the New Delhi-based company announced Sept. 22.

The central bank granted the license to use the “semi-closed mobile wallet” earlier this quarter, the statement said. In affect, the central bank’s approval will enable Airtel to offer a mobile-payment service, enabling its subscribers to exchange physical cash for virtual money stored on the mobile wallet.

Consumers may use the prepaid wallet at partner merchants, but they cannot use it to withdraw cash. Funds recipients may use their phones to pay for goods and services for transaction valued at less than 5,000 rupees (US$109 or 83 euros) at specified merchant locations. The company says it plans to disclose more details on how the system conducts payments closer to the product’s launch.

The mobile operator declined a PaymentsSource request to comment directly on the license or when will it launch the service.

Other vendors in India over the past year also have announced mobile-payments services.

Earlier this month, state-owned telecommunication operator Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. launched a service that enables customers who have credit cards to pay their telco bills using their mobile phones. And handset maker Nokia India Pvt. Ltd. partnered with Yes Bank Ltd. and Obopay India Pvt. Ltd. to offer a limited trial for mobile payments, and the Reserve Bank of India has granted Yes Bank a license to fully implement the service.

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