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Austin added as second city for mobile wallet test

Test of mobile wallet service to begin in first half of 2012

Isis officials today named Austin, Texas, as their second 2012 launch market for the carrier-backed venture that relies on Near Field Communication-ready smartphones to help consumers buy goods from merchants there.

Isis, a joint effort between AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, earlier said that Salt Lake City would be the first market to pilot its mobile wallet concept in early to mid 2012.

Austin was chosen for its tech-savvy consumers and merchants, Isis CEO Michael Abbott said in a statement.

Austin will also kick off Isis in the first half of 2012, although it isn't clear whether Austin or Salt Lake will go first. In Austin, consumers will be able to purchase and redeem offers sent to their cell phones at "participating merchant locations throughout the city," using NFC-ready smartphones , Isis said in a statement. It did not name specific merchants.

In the Utah pilot, Isis named the Utah Transit Authority as one of the participants.

Isis could be making today's announcement to show it is moving forward with NFC payment technology even as other groups are apparently moving faster. Google recently announced with Sprint Nextel and others the Google Wallet concept for NFC smartphone payments, with field tests already underway in New York and San Francisco and a fuller rollout to consumers this summer. The Google Wallet will start supporting Mastercard credit cards from Citi and users will be able to pay for products at 120,000 U.S. shops including Macy's, Walgreens, American Eagle and Bloomingdale's.

Visa in early May also announced a separate NFC-based mobile wallet system to launch in the U.S. and Canada in the fall.

Without question, U.S. credit card companies, banks and wireless carriers are lining up to offer NFC mobile payments, but some have raised questions about how soon there will be enough smartphones equipped with NFC to make the system widely adopted or when there will be strong enough interest by merchants.

Much of the motivation for NFC from Google, wireless carriers and banks is to offer customized marketing through mobile coupons that match retailers with their prime customers, analysts have noted. NFC is a two-way data communication link that makes it possible to bring data from various sources to smartphone users as they move about or shop.

Even with all the interest by backers of NFC, some say there is relatively little consumer interest, at least in the U.S. A recent poll of 1,000 U.S. consumers of all ages found only 21% wanted to buy a smartphone equipped with NFC.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

Read more about wireless networking in Computerworld's Wireless Networking Topic Center.


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