Wireless Carriers Hamstring ISIS Mobile Payment Project

by Matt Klassen on May 5, 2011

Late in 2010 the mobile market was shocked when it was announced that in an unprecedented move three of the top four American wireless operators had band together with Discover Financial to create the revolutionary ISIS mobile payment network. It was an ambitious project, designed to revolutionize the economy by giving the country one universal mobile payment standard. As I wrote at the time, say goodbye to your credit cards, your debit cards, heck, even your PayPal account, as this evolution in our economy will ostensibly usher in the extinction of most previous payment methods.

While it was clearly revolutionary, one can imagine that there were a lot of very wealthy companies out there who were not terribly enthusiastic about seeing the “old ways” of paying being ushered out the door; so as with so many revolutionary ideas before, the ISIS project has bowed to the pressure of the status quo.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the ISIS triumvirate—which includes AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile—announced its plans to scale back their ISIS project, eliminating its role as a payment system and instead turning it into a payment manager. But with a project that had unprecedented corporate support, that led the pack in mobile payment projects, and that managed to bring three cutthroat enemies to the table, the question remains, what happened?

As with many groundbreaking projects of the past, I would wager that it’s often easier to just take the money companies are offering as an incentive to shut the project down than it is to actually see it through. While of course none of the companies involved will admit it, this whole situation smacks of big money backroom corporate dealings.

Of course, while companies are more than able to decide what they want to do with their projects, its stumbling blocks like these that continue to stall innovative projects like the electric car et al.  

With that said, the WSJ has reported that the ISIS project has been scaled back into merely a mobile wallet, a money manager of sorts that will give users one place to easily store and access their credit card information. While the technology will still utilize NFC technology will still be part of the process, but instead of doing away with your credit cards, the group has decided to welcome them in with open arms.

Although the report indicated that Discover Financial was still a partner in all this, with the news that the ISIS project will possibly include other major credit card companies like VISA and MasterCard means that Discover is probably none to happy, with the company publicly stating it is now open to other partnerships.

I have little doubt that the ISIS mobile wallet was an incredibly ambitious project, requiring significant R&D resources from all companies involved, and I further have little doubt that the difficulty of the project made it that much easier to capitulate to market pressure. But that being said, it truly seems like the mobile market has lost something special today, a project that could have significantly advanced both the mobile and economic markets in the country. My only hope is that the lofty dreams of the ISIS project don’t die, serving to spur companies on to greater mobile payment innovation.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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