US operators prepare to launch Isis digital wallet pilot

Residents in Salt Lake City will be able to pay for public transport using their phones

Isis will pilot its mobile commerce program based on Near-Field Communications technology in Salt Lake City in early- to mid-2012, the joint venture said on Monday.

Isis was formed in November last year and is a joint-venture between AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, with the goal of using NFC technology to turn mobile phones into digital wallets.

The Isis system will allow users to pay for goods, redeem coupons and use store merchant loyalty cards, all with the tap of their phone. In Salt Lake City, consumers will be able to use "Isis-enabled mobile phones to make point-of-sale purchases at retailers across the Salt Lake City area and on public transportation," according to a statement.

As part of the pilot, Isis has signed an agreement with the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) to make their entire transit system Isis-enabled, it said. Isis is also working with the Salt Lake Chamber and Salt Lake City-area merchants, but isn't detailing how many stores will take part in the pilot or what phones will be used.

NFC continues to gain momentum among mobile operators worldwide. In February, 16 operators announced their intention to launch commercial services in select markets by 2012, according to a statement from industry organization GSM Association, which is developing certification and testing standards to ensure global interoperability, it said.

Among them were Telefónica, which last week announced a project that will eventually allow up to 14,000 employees to use the technology. At first, 1,000 employees will be able to use their mobile phones at retail outlets on Telefónica's campus and at local shops, and gain entry to their workplaces by holding up the phone at a turnstile, the operator said.

Operators are looking high and low for new revenue sources, and mobile money is seen as one of the most promising.

However, whether operators will control the digital wallet of the future is far from certain. The latest version of Google's Android operating system comes with integrated support for NFC, and the Nexus S has the technology built in. Currently, Google is in talks with MasterCard and Citigroup, according to reports. If negotiations are successful, Google would be able to launch a full-fledged competitor to Isis.

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Mikael Ricknäs

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