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First Austin, now live across the US: Watch Americans pay by bonk

ISIS ready for action later this year, but MCX stands ready to squish it

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US pay-by-bonk platform ISIS will go live across the US later this year following the pilots in Salt Lake City and Austin, as network operators make their big play for big data.

ISIS is jointly owned by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, and has been trialling its electronic wallet for the last nine months. Now it's going national with aspirations of enabling the 20 million bonk-compatible (NFC) smartphones in the United States, allowing their owners to pay for goods and redeem tokens at the 1.3 million compatible terminals across the country.

Not that all those terminals will be connected up. NFC is a standard feature of the hardware these days but not all retailers wire it up, and a subsection of those will have the ISIS SmartTap application that enables the use of tokens and loyalty. The rest will just take payments like a traditional card only without the signature.

NFC Times tells us that, so far, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One and American Express have created ISIS-compatible versions of their payment cards. ISIS itself offers a pre-paid card for everyone else. The user can chose which card to apply, or select a default, and payment is made by cryptographic exchange between the NFC secure element in the SIM and the merchant terminal.

ISIS is in competition with Google Wallet, which uses a secure element in the phone but has floundered in gaining public acceptance, and Merchant Exchange (MCX) which is cloudy system based on bar codes rendered on phone screens. MCX should also launch this year and has the backing of Walmart, Target, 7-Eleven, Kmart and Best Buy among others, retailers which understand that this contest isn't about payments but about data.

The data in question is the purchasing habits of the US public, which the retailers currently share with the credit-card companies but want for themselves. ISIS keeps card companies under control, and makes them pay rent to mobile operators for the SIM-card space, but MCX cuts out the card companies entirely and keeps all the data with the retailers, which will leave Visa and Mastercard bereft.

ISIS originally took on the payment duopoly, but backed down when it became clear Visa and Mastercard's presence at the point of sale was unassailable. The members of MCX own that point of sale and while it will be the general public who picks a winner in this battle, don't think for a moment that it's being fought in their interest. ®

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