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Mobile NFC Venture Isis Loses Ambition In The Face Of Competition

The Wall Street Journal reports that Isis, a joint mobile payments venture between AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is scaling back its ambition. But did it spur innovation among traditional players and banks?

Sharing a name with the Egyption goddess of fertility does not necessarily result in the birth of a successful NFC payments solution.

At its announcement last year, Isis, the joint venture spawned by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, had visions of creating mobile near field communication payments network that would leverage the carriers' massive installed user base to push adoption of the technology as an alternative to plastic. The mobile wallet in action.

But as The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required), that ambition is being scaled back:

Now, the group has adopted the less ambitious goal of setting up a "mobile wallet" that can store and exchange the account information on a users' existing Visa, MasterCard or other card, people familiar with the matter said. The carriers are scrambling to find other ways to make money from the transactions.

The traditional payments networks -- Visa and MasterCard -- were simply too much to overcome, even for three of the nation's top four mobile phone carriers (plus Discover).

Just last month, Isis announced a trial run of its technology scheduled to take place in Salt Lake City. The plan was to use the town's mass transit as a testing ground for the network, similar to the ongoing PayPass pilot that's been in place for about a year within the much larger Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, NJ Transit and MasterCard.

As the WSJ reports, the task of setting up an entire payments network proved to be daunting. The existing networks, along with new competition from the likes of Google, are all working to establish their own mobile contactless payments systems. Banks are getting involved, too. The Journal writes that Google, Citi and Visa are working on one NFC solution, while Bank of America, along with RIM and MasterCard are working on another.

Perhaps Isis' network of outsiders pushed the innovation. For now, it looks like it might still have a place on your mobile phone.

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