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Isis says carrier-backed mobile payments 'accelerated,' not 'dialing back'

Matt Hamblen | May 5, 2011
Exec calls out WSJ report, says Isis announced on April 4 it was 'opening up the platform to all payment networks and platforms'.

The mobile commerce joint venture Isis has been working for months to engage Visa, MasterCard and other major U.S. banks in smartphone payments with near-field communication (NFC) technology, an Isis marketing executive clarified late Wednesday.

The Wall Street Journal reported early Wednesday that Isis had dropped its plans for its own system, in which carriers collect payments made by smartphone in exchange for a system open to Visa and others. The Isis joint venture includes AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA.

However, Isis Marketing chief Jaymee Johnson told Computerworld that Isis had formally announced in a press release on April 4 that it was opening its infrastructure to "all merchants, banks, payment networks and carriers."

Johnson argued that the Journal story, widely reported by other media including Computerworld, was "profoundly incorrect," because Isis had already announced it was "opening up the platform to all payment networks and platforms."

But analysts said Johnson's concerns about the report were overblown, even if the article was late, because Isis was clearly planning to work with Barclaybank US and Discover Financial Services when it was conceived last year.

Perhaps Isis had planned to draw in large credit card companies like Visa all along but started small, several analysts said. "This Wall Street Journal account is a matter of semantics," said Bob Egan, an analyst at The Sepharim Group. "[That] we're not any closer to mobile payments in the U.S. is the main point."

Johnson said that Discover and Barclaybank were "initial" participants, and refused to call them "exclusive" to Isis. While he noted Isis has been talking to all the major banks and credit card processors for months, he refused to confirm any others are involved.

Gartner analyst Mark Hung said that Citibank is widely known to be working with Isis, but Johnson said he couldn't confirm Citibank's involvement.

Isis' openness to other banks and credit card processors was part of the April press release, which focused on a Salt Lake City pilot of smartphones set for mid-2012, although the openness part was given less emphasis by Isis, as well as Computerworld and others' coverage.

Johnson said Isis decided last year to "go to market with fewer [companies] and ultimately the decision was to open to all payment networks." Ultimately, Isis could end up working with three or four banks and credit card processors, although not a much larger group, he predicted.

Johnson called the current state of Isis as an open mobile system an "acceleration" of its original mission and not a "dialing back" as depicted in the Journal article Wednesday. "We [Isis carriers] were never going to be the bank, and that may be an important clarification," Johnson said.


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