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Salt Lake City goes wallet-free with Isis

Trial run for national rollout

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Operator consortium Isis has selected Salt Lake City as its flagship deployment to show the rest of the USA what NFC can do for them.

The plan will see Salt Lake City's public transport system accepting pay-by-wave from a mobile phone by the middle of next year. Retailers have also been encouraged to adopt Near Field Communications technology at the point of sale, as Salt Lake City strives to become The Place You Can Leave Your Wallet At Home.

Isis was set up less than six months ago: a consortium of US network operators including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. The consortium is dedicated to ensuring that electronic payments based on NFC keep their secure element in the SIM – under the control of the network operator, not the handset manufacturer or bank-card supplier – by promoting the technology and business models associated with it.

In Salt Lake City, that involves working with the Utah Transit Authority to convert all the buses and trains to accept NFC payments, as well as flooding the area with NFC handsets and SIM chips.

"I would like to express our excitement that the Salt Lake City area has been chosen to lead the roll-out of Isis mobile payments," said Mayor Ralph Becker's canned statement, though looking a little closer it becomes obvious why Salt Lake was chosen to lead the US into contactless payments.

The Utah Transit Authority already uses proximity payment cards, deployed in 2009, so adding NFC functionality to public transport is a matter of software not hardware, and while the City might be the capital of Utah it has a population somewhat smaller than Northampton, so presents a nicely sized area for experimentation rather than a sprawling metropolis where deployment would be more challenging.

But the transition to electronic payments isn't going to happen overnight, and it's good to see Isis doing something practical, and with a reasonably aggressive timetable. It will be interesting to see how the locals take to paying by wave. ®

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