Carrier-Led Mobile Payments Venture Isis Launches In Austin & Salt Lake City

As previously rumored, the carrier-led mobile payments venture known as Isis has officially launched in its first two test markets today: Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City, Utah. In those regions, Android users on A&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon can now pick up a special secure element SIM card for their supported handset models starting today, and then download the Isis Mobile Wallet application in order to start using their handset to make mobile payments.

Isis, for those unaware, is a joint venture between the wireless operators noted above, which involves a number of bankcard, payment networks, and point-of-sale partnerships in order to work. To date, Isis has partnered with Verifone, Ingenico, Device Fidelity and ViVOtech on the hardware side, banking partners Chase, Capital One, Barclaycard, plus payment networks Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express, and handset makers HTC, LG, Motorola, RIM, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson.

The venture, primarily, is an attempt by mobile operators to stake their claim in the growing mobile payments market, which today is still something of a chaotic mess with participation from startups like Square, as well as Google, PayPal, banks, payment networks, and more involved. Isis, however, is a major attempt at making NFC-based payments a reality here in the U.S. With NFC, users can simply pay at checkout by tapping or waving their phone by the point-of-sale terminal to complete their purchase. It’s not really any easier or more efficient than swiping a credit card, but it ultimately opens up the door for more services to ride on top of that data connection, including targeted offers and coupons, for example.

Isis’ launch was leaked last week, thanks to a photo of an internal T-Mobile document giving away all the details. The document said the Samsung Galaxy S III, Galaxy S II, and Relay 4G would be supported. Today, each carrier’s website is offering a page detailing their supported handsets. Click here for, T-Mobile, or Verizon. AT&T’s site says Isis-ready phones are coming soon, Verizon lists the Droid Incredible 4G LTE, and T-Mobile lists the leaked devices above and the HTC Amaze 4G, and the Samsung Galaxy Note II (these last two will be supported by late 2012).

The service works via a mobile application, available from the Google Play store, which allows consumers to add their existing Amex, Capital One, or Chase cards to a digital wallet. The app also includes a reloadable “Isis Cash Card,” which you can load up with funds from any other plastic cards. In the Isis test markets, consumers can look for new signage at POS terminals reading “Isis Ready” to determine whether or not they can pay using the app at the given location. Some participating merchants including McDonald’s, Rite Aid, 7-Eleven, The Sports Authority, and Petco.

Today, the earlier leaked details are now official. The Isis website is currently showing “coming soon,” but that banner should come down shortly. The site also offers a list of places where the service can be used, details on where to get it, and other FAQs.