AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Working Together On ISIS NFC Mobile Wallet System

Sensing perhaps that working by themselves on such an important matter might be inadvisable, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have announced a joint effort, called ISIS, intended to be a virtual wallet and mobile payment system. There are very few details, but the stated goal of replacing “cash, credit and debit cards, reward cards, coupons, tickets and transit passes” is certainly bold enough. I mean, bold if you don’t think about all the countries that have had systems like this for years.

Yes, although we’ll be playing catch-up to Japan and South Korea, among others, with luck the major carriers will be able to provide a system that’s broader and more universal. They’ll have to parley with credit card companies, small businesses, and government on various levels, though, so I doubt ISIS will be arriving in a hurry.

One thing that’s not clear is what ISIS stands for. I’m going to say nothing, since they have it as Isis elsewhere. That’s going to be my convention from now on, since I believe there is a special place in hell reserved for those who abuse capital letters.

The ascendancy of near-field communications is likely going to revolutionize in-person commerce whether Isis gets off the ground or not. And while the idea of all my shopping preferences, memberships, credit card purchases, and so on being on the same device that knows where I am and who I know is slightly disconcerting, I’m sure they’ll find some way of making it palatable to geezers like me. Convenience is an easy sell, and NFC is all convenience.

The destabilization of the current mode of authorization and tracking will be weird for a while, though. And I expect a certain amount of bugs, though if they’re smart, the carriers will work hard at keeping this thing dead simple. If they get greedy and insist on their own app or interface as well as this new protocol, things will get ugly. But if they just lay the foundation and let mobile payment be as secure and friendly as the user chooses to make it… well, relying on the user isn’t always the best idea.

Although it’s supposed to launch in the next 18 months (so mid-2012, maybe), I have a feeling that even then it’s going to be a pretty limited roll-out. The Pho place I go to on Broadway? Probably not going to get this system until they’re legally required to. They were cash-only until like May. So don’t forget that the world has to change along with the consumers. Sure, you’ll be able to use Isis at Best Buy and T-Mobile stores right off the bat (if your card or bank has been wooed by then) but replacing the wallet is going to take a long time. A decade? More?

In the meantime, they’re working with Discover and Barclays. No word on the other big guys, and no hints as to whether Isis might be going up against a similar system backed by the banks and credit industry. Seems likely. There’s a hell of a lot of money about to be made.

Also: “Set your preferences to receive offers and savings that are meaningful to you.” We’ll see about that.

Here’s the full press release:


Isis to Lead the U.S. Payments Industry from Cards to Mobile Phones; Available to All Merchants, Banks and Wireless Service Providers; Venture Led By Former GE Capital Financial Executive

New York – November 16, 2010 – AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless today announced the formation of a joint venture chartered with building ISIS™, a national mobile commerce network that aims to fundamentally transform how people shop, pay and save.

Isis’ initial focus will be on building a mobile payment network that utilizes mobile phones to make point-of-sale purchases. By utilizing smartphone and near-field communication (NFC) technology to modernize 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 personalized shopping experience for consumers,” said Michael Abbott, Chief Executive Officer of Isis. “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.”

Isis Brings Both Consumer and Merchant Scale

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 seven 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 utilize 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.”

How It Works

The new venture will enable contactless mobile payment and commerce services using near-field communication technology. 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.

About Isis

The joint venture is between AT&T Mobility LLC, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless and is based in New York City. The venture is chartered with building ISIS™, a national mobile commerce network that will fundamentally transform how people shop, pay and save. The Isis mobile commerce network will be available to all merchants, banks and mobile carriers. ISIS is a trademark of JVL Ventures, LLC in the U.S. and/or other countries. Other logos, product and company names mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.