U.S. Mobile Operators Announce Planned ‘Isis’ NFC Service

Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile USA announced their joint venture today, with plans to introduce NFC-based mobile payment in selected markets during the next 18 months.

The joint venture, calling its planned mobile-commerce network and brand "Isis," said it intends to use the carriers' massive customer base–more than 200 million combined subscribers–to lead the payments industry in the United States in the transition from cards to mobile phones. The mobile wallets the telcos offer on NFC phones will also provide membership and loyalty programs, personalized coupons, rewards and content.

The mobile carriers also announced their long-awaited pick for CEO of the venture, payments industry veteran Michael Abbott, formerly of GE Capital. The company the telcos formed, called JVL Ventures, is based in New York City.

"Our mobile commerce network, through relationships with merchants, will provide an enhanced, more convenient, more personalized shopping experience for consumers," said Abbott in a statement. "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."

The telcos also confirmed they will partner with Discover Financial Services to tap in on Discover’s network of 7 million merchant locations in the United States–although fewer than 2% of those are now equipped to handle contactless payments. Barclaycard US will be the first issuer of "multiple mobile-payment products." But Abbott said in the statement that "moving forward, Isis will be available to all interested merchants, banks and mobile carriers."  

While Discover’s network and its Zip contactless application is present on most of the roughly 100,000 merchant locations that also accept contactless payment from Visa- and MasterCard-branded cards, the joint venture will have to build up the acceptance infrastructure greatly if it hopes to successfully wean consumers off of cards, say observers. The telcos are expected to first target cities with high concentrations of contactless terminals, such as New York City.

Abbott joined GE Capital, the financial services unit of General Electric Co., in 2002. According to the joint venture, he led strategy, marketing and product development for the GE unit’s private-label cards division. Before that, he served as executive vice president of marketing for credit card services at FleetBoston. There he launched new card products.

The telcos had searched for a CEO for months, and NFC Times learned they had been close to making an appointment on at least one occasion. The long-overdue hiring could help bring focus to the group, which faces an uphill climb to take on the major U.S. card networks Visa and MasterCard, along with major U.S. banks, in launching a new payment service.

It was unclear if the NFC services the announcement said the venture plans to launch within 18 months are in fact the pilots the group reportedly plans to hold by late 2011. 

 

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