With the advent of the virtual wallet, companies are jockeying for position in the race to corner the market in the extremely lucrative field of mobile payments. Literally billions of dollars are at stake.
Isis, the joint venture ofVerizon Wireless, AT&T-Mobility and T-Mobile-USA started in November, may have scored a major coup this week by being the first to get the support and participation of all four major payment networks in its push to be the mobile commerce platform of choice for consumers and merchants. With a bunch of heavyweight competitors looking to pounce, Isis took the lead by securing MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover in its bid for an easy mobile payment service powered by a near-field communications chip (NFC) that will enable users to pay for things with a simple tap of their smartphone. All credit card, loyalty card and gift card information can be stored in the phone, eliminating the need to carry any cards.
A definite rival to Google Wallet and Sprint’s near-field communications service which only has ties to MasterCard, Isis has a limited launch scheduled for the early part of 2012 to take place in Austin, TX and Salt Lake City, UT. Other competitors include Apple, which is in the midst of developing an iTunes-linked service, Square, Amazon and PayPal Mobile. Verizon, Visa and MasterCard are also all working on their own incarnations.
“This is a major milestone. We’re bringing together incredibly fierce competitors for the common good of helping consumers make mobile payments,” said Isis CEO Michael Abbott.
MasterCard has been sponsoring research to find out whether or not consumers are ready to transition to using NFC payment systems and the findings indicate that yes, a majority of them are. Analyst firm Juniper Research projects that by 2014, NFC-based mobile transactions will reach about $50 billion globally.
David Snow, a Juniper Analyst, cautions that consumers may find it difficult to choose which operator to align themselves with. “Do I go with the mobile operator who I trust with my calls and data or with the financial organization who I trust with my money?”
He also says, “It’s difficult to know how people will vote, but vote they will and it won’t be for more than one – all the wallet propositions promise to be all you need, and do many people have more than one physical wallet?”
NFC is especially appealing for retailers because it will allow them to personalize customer offers, tailoring them to shopper’s specific preferences and buying habits.
Thus far, it is too soon to tell if Isis will wind up a major player in the mobile player marketplace, but its decision to team up with the four major credit card companies, MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover definitely gives it a serious edge. Whether or not it’s a match for the formidable presence of Google and Apple remains to be seen.