NEW YORK: Mobile payment levels will surpass $170bn this year worldwide, fuelled by changing consumer habits and the rising uptake of devices like smartphones, a new study has argued.

Gartner, the insights provider, estimated that this channel will be worth $171.5bn over 2012 as a whole, a 61.9% increase on the $105.9bn logged in 2011.

A surge in user numbers should support such a trend, with 212.2m people utilising relevant services this year, an improvement from 160.5m when measured against the previous 12 months.

Gartner also forecast volume and value figures would both expand by 42% annually to 2016, yielding 448m users and a market worth $617bn.

Text messages are likely to remain the core access point in developing nations, while the mobile web and WAP will deliver around 80% of activity in North America and Europe by 2016.

Near Field Communications, a type of contactless payment allowing consumers to buy something by placing their phone near a sensor, should see demand "pick up" thereafter.

"NFC payment involves a change in user behaviour and requires collaboration among stakeholders that includes banks, mobile carriers, card networks and merchants," said Sandy Shen, Gartner's research director.

Eastern Europe is predicted to witness the highest growth in uptake, albeit from a low base. Asia Pacific will have the greatest number of users, in front of Africa, with these two regions supplying 60% of volume transactions by 2016.

Africa will top the charts in terms of revenues, boasting the most money transfer transactions, which are also typically more valuable than in other areas. Asia Pacific will be second here, ahead of North America and Western Europe.

Merchandise purchases are due to predominate in North America and Western Europe, thanks both to e-commerce and in-store transactions.

Amazon and eBay are among the ecommerce sites that have already made significant progress in this space, while Starbucks has pioneered a mobile payment and loyalty card.

By contrast, money transfers and airtime top-ups are going to maintain their pre-eminence in fast-growth economies, although buying transport tickets is set to be a major area of expansion.

"There will be a few global players that have the scale and resources to serve large customers and the mass market whose requirements can be readily satisfied by standard solutions," said Shen. "However, there will always be segments that cannot be sufficiently served by the global players."

Warc subscribers can access the latest insights on mobile marketing in a new Trends Report on the subject, which is available here.

Data sourced from Gartner; additional content by Warc staff