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Isis to roll out mobile payments on Monday

Launches in Salt Lake City and Austin will work with NFC-ready phones

The Isis mobile wallet network will launch Monday in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas, the Isis consortium announced Wednesday after an earlier delay in the launch.

In an emailed statement, Isis marketing head Jaymee Johnson confirmed the launch day and said 20 mobile phones that are Isis-ready would be in the market by year's end to take advantage of the Isis network.

All the phones are NFC-ready, meaning they contain an NFC (near field communications) radio chip that communicates with an NFC terminal for making payments using a smartphone, Isis said.

Isis previously confirmed a number of retailers, gas stations and transit providers that will be equipped to handle the NFC payments. The NFC phones also contain special security, known as a "secure element" inside, which protects a customer's credit card information. There has been a debate between banks and other parties to mobile commerce as to whether the secure element should remain in the phone -- either on a SIM card or embedded in the phone's core -- or be should located in the cloud.

Johnson said in mid-September that Isis would not launch its mobile payment system by the end of the summer as previously planned, but did not offer a date for the launch until today.

Isis is a consortium made up of three wireless carriers -- Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile. Reports have speculated which smartphones would be supported, but Isis has not confirmed them. One new smartphone, Samsung's Galaxy S III, has an NFC chip that can be used to transfer data, but would require a special Isis app to authorize a payment. With the app, a user makes a quick swipe close to an NFC terminal to transfer money.

Apple decided not to provide an NFC chip in its iPhone 5, but set up a precursor to a mobile wallet called Passbook, which runs in the iOS 6 mobile operating system. Passbook stores data, such as a Starbucks card, to make payments with the iPhone 5. The user shows a barcode on the phone's display to a barcode reader at Starbucks store to buy a cup of coffee.

Because Apple decided to forgo NFC in the latest iPhone, some analysts said the rollout of mobile wallet capabilities could take much longer in the U.S.

Last week, a panel of mobile wallet experts at the MobileCon IT conference said it would take as long as eight years for smartphone-ready mobile commerce to catch on with only 25% of U.S. smartphone uses, partly because consumers are content to pay with their credit cards, and many still use paper checks to pay their bills.

In fact, one panel member Ryan Hughes, chief marketing officer for Isis, said U.S. consumers aren't widely asking for mobile commerce, which presents a marketing challenge for Isis to explain the benefits of the mobile wallet over the physical "leather wallet."

For more than a year, Google has offered a Google Wallet app on some NFC smartphones over Sprint's network and has been steadily working with partners to roll out tens of thousands of NFC-ready payment terminals in the U.S. Even so, analysts don't see smartphone users clamoring for the mobile wallet capability.

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 email address is [email protected].

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile payments in Computerworld's Mobile Payments Topic Center.


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