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Mobile payment pilot coming to Salt Lake in 2012

Matt Hamblen, Computerworld | April 6, 2011
Isis, a joint venture of three U.S. wireless carriers, plans to test smartphone-based mobile wallet technology in Salt Lake City next year.

Isis will need to update the Utah Transit Authority's contactless readers so they're capable of interoperating with the Isis network; it will also have to make the Isis capability work on phones from "multiple manufacturers and multiple OS's," said Jaymee Johnson, head of Isis marketing. "It's not going to be a single phone, and Isis has been working [on NFC] with all the manufacturers for a year-plus now, privately."

The Sepharim Group's Egan said it will be no small task to get the Isis system to work on multiple operating systems and give it a consistent look on each, but that task won't be nearly as difficult as forging relationships with other companies.

Isis hopes there won't be a conflict with banks and payment networks that aren't part of its group, Johnson said. "It's already a complicated ecosystem, and for Isis to work... the parties need to work well with one another," Johnson said. "The Isis story has been openness to all parties."

Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner, also is dubious about how well interested parties will cooperate with Isis or other U.S. mobile payment systems.

"It's going to be confusing to consumers who will go to a store to make a mobile payment and won't understand 'What is this Isis thing?' It's going to be very confusing," said Litan.

Alistair Newton, another Gartner analyst, emphasized that the Isis Salt Lake City venture is "only a pilot" and noted that dozens of other pilots conducted globally "have delivered interesting findings but no concrete services."

In Salt Lake City, Newton said, some consumers who already use contactless cards will have to be persuaded to stop using those cards and start using mobile devices. "Sure, they will do this for the trial. But after that, there's got to be more of a 'coolness' factor to persuade customers to switch," Newton added.

In the end, Newton said that all Isis does is "add another party" -- the wireless carriers -- "to the transaction stream who want to take a cut of a currently shrinking revenue stream."


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