Mobile Wallet Race Intensifies

Isis, with the support of Gilbarco Veeder-Root and Wayne, launches in Texas and Salt Lake City as it looks to gain traction in the growing mobile payments industry.

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

Isis, a mobile commerce joint venture by AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, introduced its long-anticipated Isis Mobile Wallet last month, a mobile payment platform that uses Near Field Communication (NFC).

Customers in Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City can now visit AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon retail locations and select from nine Isis-ready handsets, with an expected 11 additional handsets coming to market by the end of 2012. Even if a customers’ phone is equipped with NFC, they still need to upgrade to a secure element SIM card to make their mobile phone Isis ready. Customers then just download the Isis Mobile Wallet application from Google and load their approved credit card into the Isis Mobile Wallet. Users also have the option of applying for the Isis Cash card, which comes preloaded in every Mobile Wallet.

Once set up, customers can start tapping to pay at hundreds of locations, including gas stations, convenience stores and drug stores. Gilbarco Veeder-Root and Wayne SmartTap-enabled dispensers have been installed at select retail locations to accompany the market launch.

Big Brand Support
Manolo Almagro, vice president of digital shopper marketing at TPN, a brand-centric retail marketing agency, noted the big difference between the Isis Mobile Wallet and others on the market, is that it’s carrier based.

If you have a mobile phone that’s not supported by one of the carrier networks launching Isis, you can’t use Isis, even if the phone is NFC compatible, Almagro noted. “There are so many compatibility issues when it comes to these carrier-managed systems,” Almagro said. “The second tier of challenges is they have to educate people about the fact that their phone has this capability, and a lot of people don’t know that. Google is the same way—they have a more universal approach, but again it’s carrier limited.”

Customers with an iPhone (roughly 33% of all smartphone users), for example, won’t be able to take advantage of the launch, but they can still get started with mobile payments. Apple has built Passbook 2 into its latest operating system.

“From Apple’s perspective they don’t need NFC to do a transaction. With Apple Passbook, if you have some sort of card with monetary value, you can use a barcode scanner to read it from the phone, and it’s a way of getting around having to have that hardware in the phone needed for NFC,” Almagro said, adding that he expects Apple will adopt NFC once standards are in place.

If the launch goes well, and customers adopt the behavior of using their phones for payment, Isis could offer an ideal platform for loyalty programs that encourages customers to spend a bit more time inside the convenience store. But many people are skeptical, especially as the debate continues as to whether QR codes or NFC will ultimately take over as front runner in the loyalty and payment space. But, Almagro said, there could be another contender altogether.

Touchcode (, offers an invisible electronic code that is printed on product packaging during the production process. It is encrypted with a host of information similar to a QR code that customers could access using the touchscreen on their mobile phone.

With all these options hanging over consumers, it will take some time for one leader in the field to emerge, Almagro said. In other words, it’s important for everyone to keep an open mind, because the mobile payment wave of the future is still undefined.

“What Isis is basically doing with their test launch is trying to see what the adoption rate is, but I think it’s going to be a while until there is a standard, and a while before any major retailers jump in,” Almagro said. “I think everyone is taking a wait and see approach right now and that’s the main challenge for NFC and mobile transactions.”


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