Isis phone wave-and-pay service launching in Austin, Salt Lake City in 2012

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Isis -- the mobile payments venture from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon -- is going to launch in 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Austin, Texas, as pilot markets.

Much of the infrastructure for Isis, which will allow shoppers to wave smartphones near a scanner to make purchases, is already in place, and the service should roll out in the first three to six months of next year, said Jaymee Johnson, Isis’ head of marketing.


“We’ll have multiple handsets, from multiple manufacturers and operating systems,” Johnson said. “All of the big handset manufacturers have committed to near-field communications. It’s really an across-the-industry type of thing.”

Near-field communications, often referred to simply as NFC, allows for contact-free communication between phones and special scanners -- sometimes called readers.

Modern debit and credit card readers are being made with NFC readers built in, and Isis is looking to be one of the many services to take advantage of the infrastructure.

“You probably shop at the same store every week. You probably carry a loyalty card that hangs off your keyring or something like that at the grocery store. Some people clip coupons too,” Johnson said. “You swipe once to pay, you swipe a second time with your loyalty card and then maybe you swipe a third time for a coupon.

“So, we’re basically putting all of those transactions on the phone, so all you have to do is wave or tap your phone to the reader and then it recognizes you’re a loyalty-program member and it recognizes what coupons you’ve downloaded and want to use. And this all allows us to better personalize and target what coupons a consumer wants and gets too.”

While NFC technology isn’t yet built into consumer smartphones, there are “hundreds of thousands” of NFC readers waiting to be used. But Isis’ spread toward a national presence will take some time, he said.

“We want to start in Austin and Salt Lake, in two markets, then a few months later maybe go to four markets, then later maybe eight, then 10, then 20,” Johnson said. “But that won’t all happen in 2012, that’ll be spread out over 2013 and beyond.”

Isis is launching in Salt Lake and Austin because both cities are full of well-educated, tech-savvy people who aren’t afraid to be early adopters of new technology, he said.

“Both cities also have receptive business climates that support new businesses and small businesses and not just the big national chains,” Johnson said. “That’s important to us because we want Isis to be very dense, to be an option in not just the big national chains but smaller regional and local businesses too. We don’t want Isis to be something you can only use in 1 of every 4 purchases, we want it to be more prevalent than that.”

The field of NFC mobile payments is heating up, and Isis, which will take a portion of sales revenue when its service is used, isn’t the only player looking to cash in big on the emerging technology.

Sprint is looking to beat Isis to market with both NFC phones and a wave-and-pay network available to consumers sometime in 2011.

Visa is working to launch its own mobile wallet service, while MasterCard and Google have teamed up to build up a Google Wallet network for mobile payments as well.

Square, a San Francisco start-up run by Twitter Chairman Jack Dorsey, has a mobile wallet option available to consumers and retailers now -- but it doesn’t use NFC to make purchases. Instead, Square’s mobile wallet, called Card Case, allows users to make purchases in an iPad app by way of a unique user name -- similar to the way people buy music and movies from iTunes.


Sprint to launch wave-and-pay service in 2011, before Isis

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon partner on Isis mobile payment project

Google Wallet will work at fewer than 1 in 100 MasterCard locations

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles