A collaboration between three of the UK’s biggest mobile operators unite to create a unified NFC payment service for mobile consumers has been challenged by rival carrier Three UK, filing a complaint with the EU’s antitrust authority to stop the joint venture from launching.

The joint venture – which includes Everything Everywhere, Vodafone and O2 – proposed creating a project that would allow owners of NFC-enabled smartphones to top-up balances and pay at retailers using their phone, but faced problems from the start when smaller operators objected to being left out of the deal.

Mobile Entertainment reports:

Now, before those founder operators have received clearance from the regulators, 3UK has filed a complaint with the EU’s antitrust authority to stop the venture.

3’s general counsel, Stephen Lerner asserts that the “cosy collaboration” would prevent those excluded from launching their own effective services, and that the EU “should not allow this type of collaboration to go forward under any circumstances.”

It has been suggested that larger operators have banded together to edge out smaller carriers that have been able to capitalise on customers migrating networks. Three says that ”excluding the maverick raises serious competition concerns. It has serious implications for both consumers and wider business as the internet continues to move mobile.”

Legal action with a regulator in the EU could spell disaster for UK’s mobile operators, which need to move quickly to launch services capable of competing with Apple and Google’s own services, launching directly on smartphones themselves.

It might be a case of having to partner with smaller operators to see the initiative launch, making sure they are able to capitalise on a new technology – and associated revenue stream – certain to dominate the mobile industry in the coming years.