Mobile phones are expected to become an important e-commerce channel, but there is much less demand for person-to-person payments capabilities through handsets, according to two recent reports from Allied Business Intelligence Inc.

The New York research firm predicts that consumers worldwide will spend about $119 billion annually on goods and services using their mobile phones by 2015, representing about 8% of the total e-commerce market.

In the U.S., mobile shopping rose 203% last year, to $1.2 billion from $396 million in 2008.

"Mobile online shopping is reaching critical mass," Mark Beccue, an ABI senior analyst, said in a press release last week. "While definitions of mass-market adoption vary, a more than threefold increase in one year indicates a significant consumer interest."

Driving the increase in mobile shopping is the recent spike in smart phone sales and the corresponding enthusiasm for mobile Internet access, Beccue said. Moreover, many retailers have introduced mobile consumer Web sites.

Mobile phones are also becoming important financial tools in the developing world. "A long-term driver, in global terms, is the fact that in many less-industrialized regions, mobile is virtually the only way to access the Internet," Beccue said.

Overall, mobile online shopping allows for better time management; many people are now checking out products in stores and using their phones to look for better deals, according to ABI.

Virtual goods, often associated with online gaming, also have experienced an uptick, and mobile payments may be the best option for online purchases of less than $20, making it more suitable for consumers who lack access to credit cards, ABI has found.

ABI expects growth in mobile commerce to remain steady in the U.S. Mobile commerce in Japan last year already exceeded $10 billion, and ABI expects Europe to outperform the U.S. by yearend.

Phones may be less useful for personal payments, the research company found. Many financial companies are developing or offering person-to-person transfer services, but recent poll data suggests that consumers have low interest in using them.

ABI polled roughly 200 consumers in each of seven countries in November. Only 16% of Western Europeans said they were interested in mobile P-to-P services, and just 9% in the U.S.

There was more interest in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, where 34% of respondents said they were interested in making personal payments with their phones.

"It's tough to make a convincing case for mobile P-to-P in most developed markets," Beccue said.