US telecom giants to build gigantic ‘mobile wallet’ network

16 Nov 2010

Three of the largest telecoms operators in the US – AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile – have created a new mobile payments venture called Isis which will combine smartphones with near field communication (NFC) technology.

The service, which will be unveiled in the coming 18 months, happens just as Eric Schmidt from Google revealed NFC capabilities will be contained in the forthcoming version of Android, code-named Gingerbread, and as Apple focuses on NFC capabilities in its next smartphone, the iPhone 5.

Isis will enable consumers to set their payment preferences for their credit, debit and coupon cards onto their mobile devices and just zap in payments or retrieve offers at the checkout with a swipe of their hand.

NFC uses short-range, high-frequency wireless technology to enable the encrypted exchange of information between devices at a short distance. The new system is being designed and built to include strong security and privacy safeguards.

Isis’ initial focus will be on building a mobile payment network that utilises mobile phones to make point-of-sale purchases. By utilising smartphone and NFC technology to modernise the payments process, Isis intends to deliver new levels of competition and value to consumers and merchants. Isis expects to introduce its service in key geographic markets during the next 18 months.

Michael Abbott has been named as chief executive officer of Isis. Formerly with GE Capital, Abbott is a veteran financial services executive with extensive experience in the payment and technology industries.

“Our mobile commerce network, through relationships with merchants, will provide an enhanced, more convenient, more personalised shopping experience for consumers,” said Abbott.

Mobile payments revolution

“While mobile payments will be at the core of our offering, it is only the start. We plan to create a mobile wallet that ultimately eliminates the need for consumers to carry cash, credit and debit cards, reward cards, coupons, tickets and transit passes.”

Founding members, AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless collectively provide wireless services to more than 200 million consumers who will have access to the Isis service.

Isis is working with Discover Financial Services’ payment network, currently accepted at more than 7 million merchant locations nationwide, to develop an extensive mobile payment infrastructure for the joint venture.

Barclaycard US, part of Barclays PLC, is expected to be the first issuer on the network, offering multiple mobile payment products to meet the needs of every customer.

“We believe the venture will have the scope and scale necessary to introduce mobile commerce on a broad basis. In the beginning, we intend to fully utilise Discover’s national payment infrastructure as well as Barclaycard’s expertise in contactless and mobile payments,” said Abbott.

“Moving forward, Isis will be available to all interested merchants, banks and mobile carriers.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years