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KaChing! US carrier-backed Isis Wallet program is live

For the second time since 2011, your smartphone can be your wallet. Only this time around, the product has nothing to do with Google(s goog) and everything to do with Isis, a U.S. carrier-backed service that’s now live around the nation. The wallet program represents the culmination of carrier efforts to get a piece of the mobile payment pie.

Politics and business aside for a moment, what does this mean? If you have an Isis-compatible smartphone with NFC from AT&T(s t), T-Mobile(s tmus) or Verizon(s vz)(s vod) and a special SIM card with what’s called a secure element, your phone can be used for contactless purchases. Instead of sliding a credit card through a reader, for example, you simply hold your phone close to a point-of-sale terminal to transmit the payment information.

Many recent Android phones include an NFC, or near-field communication, chips inside so they’ll just need the Isis Mobile Wallet app installed. Apple(s aapl) iPhones don’t have NFC but the Isis folks say a special case with an NFC chip for iPhones will be sold. Support for Windows Phone is still in the works.

After installing the Isis app, you’ll need to add credit or debit card information to it. Multiple payment options can be added so you can choose which digital “card” to pay with at time of purchase. The app also tracks any special offers or digital coupons from card vendors and retailers.

So if this all sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it should. Google rolled out Google Wallet in a limited fashion nearly two years ago. I used it back then — and dozens of times after that — for the exact same purpose.

Carriers, however, didn’t want Google to have all of the payment information and control. Hence, Isis was born. Sprint(s s) initially backed Google Wallet and isn’t part of Isis. Google Wallet is still limited by your choice of carrier; you can’t use it for payments if your Android phone is on the carriers backing Isis. So while you can choose what to buy, you’re not always able to choose how to pay for it.

8 Responses to “KaChing! US carrier-backed Isis Wallet program is live”

  1. A couple things should be noted:

    * You can get a free “secure element” SIM from the carriers, if you go to one of their corporate stores, not the independent franchise stores (who are clueless about this, or try to charge you money for a new SIM)

    * It’s hidden in the process, but, if you don’t have an “approved” Credit Card, you just sign up for the AMEX option, then link that to your bank account (move funds or cap the amount that can be used for security reasons). They don’t even tell you you get a $20 credit for the trouble. So, it makes 10 minutes of your time worth it (unless you’re a lawyer).

    * For the first $200 you spend, you’ll get another $40 in credit back.

    * If you go to the “Where to Pay” link on their site, you’ll find hundreds of locations already have the payment terminals in place within walking distance (if you live in any major city).

    The biggest problem is that ISIS need people in the carrier stores to help people through the process. In turn, those people can help their friends and family. But, they need some in-person marketing and handholding during their launch. That said, NFC is now officially a “standard” despite Apple not playing along. The fact that I can pay at a gas station, vending machine or retailer with my phone, share files, pair with speakers or Wi-Fi plus get some nifty new NFC toys and wearables adds a whole new dimension to my mobile phone.

    • Sam S. – Great observations. My experience at the company owned stores was pretty good and it seemed like their sales staff was fully trained and motivated to sell the Isis solution. They walked me through the entire process and made sure I was aware of all the features. I must say, the overall experience was much better than i thought it would be – very unlike Google Wallet, where it was left for the user to be an Android geek to figure out what it does and how to use it. End of the day, consumer education is whats going to move any mobile payment initiative forward.

  2. tmeyer2000

    ISIS shows a complete lack of consumer behavior. This is the tail wagging the dog…. unless the infrastructure is ubiquitous there is no chance for a new technology to catch on.

    Unfortunately a defensive move by the carriers, they should focus on the bits.

    • I would disagree – I found a lot more merchants that accept the Isis form of payment in and around the neighborhoods I shop in, than I have for any other mobile payment technology – period. And I have used a few of these mobile payment technologies before, and the only non NFC one I find myself using regularly is the Starbucks app – which of course I can only use at Starbucks stores and no where else.