Excuse me for appearing to be confused about the state of play with Isis – the US-based NFC-based mobile commerce network spearheaded by Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobile and T-Mobile US. I liken its progress more to the iris plant rather than an agile attempt to wrest the NFC advantage in the US consumer market.
The iris plant, for those not into gardening, produces a stunningly beautiful, brightly colored flower in early spring. The rest of the year it is either dormant, hiding underground, or showing a few leaves above ground, presumably to prepare itself for the next show of flowers.
Isis has a remarkably similar life. We see a flurry of PR activity about once a year and then it sort of dies away, presumably to try and deliver what was promised during the publicity blitz.
Perhaps the name was deliberately chosen to support this annual activity. The original Isis, an ancient Egyptian goddess married her brother Osiris who was later murdered and his body parts strewn around the Earth. To cut a very long story short, Isis managed to collect all the bits and reconstruct Osiris bringing him back to life and a number of myths evolved from this story. It was believed that the Nile River flooded every year because of the tears of sorrow that Isis wept for Osiris and his death and rebirth were relived each year through rituals.
Coincidence you may say, but the activities of the modern day Isis are seemingly following the same pattern as the flower and the myth. First announced in November, 2010, Isis looked like the perfect means for the mobile network operators to take the advantage in the NFC and phone-enabled payments space.
Things went a bit quiet until May, 2011, Isis announced it was scaling back on plans to provide its own payments service, instead saying then that it would rely on existing payment processing by Visa, MasterCard, and other payment networks. Then in July, a partnership was announced between ISIS, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. The deal essentially allowed a customer of an Isis phone to use any of the most common credit cards, stored as part of an encrypted “digital wallet” inside his or her phone that will communicate to a merchant’s point-of-sale device via an NFC chip.
Come July 2013 and the next flurry of Isis news hit our news portals, but it was hardly riveting reading. The company basically pledged to extend its mobile wallet beyond Google’s Android to support Apple’s iOS, Microsoft’s Windows Phone and BlackBerry and that it would be expanding its services after two ongoing pilots were completed. Ho hum.
Oh, and to begin using Isis, consumers must first visit an AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile US or Verizon Wireless retail store to obtain a secure element SIM card and ensure their Android smartphone model is NFC-enabled. From there, users must download the Isis application from the relevant app stores and load either an eligible American Express, Capital One or Chase credit card into their Isis wallet or leverage the Isis Cash Card inserted into every account. Wow, couldn’t be easier, right?
Meanwhile, its payment ‘partners’ continue to make inroads into the space with their own multiple pilots with announcements that they will be working closely with banks and their own merchants network to roll out their own versions of NFC enabled cards and devices. Having a foot in each camp they may well become the nemesis of Isis, but we may have to wait a year or so to find out.
First published as The Insider at TM Forum