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Carrier mobile payments venture signs up 50 merchant partners

Isis, a joint venture between Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile, is starting to show some momentum as it nears its trials in Salt Lake City and Austin.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read
An example of NFC payments using Google Wallet. Isis plans to offer its own system in trials this summer. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

The wireless carriers' mobile-payments joint venture, after a slow start, is picking up some steam.

Isis, a partnership between AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile, has lined up 50 merchant partners, including heavy hitters like Coca-Cola, Macy's, and Foot Locker, as it gets closer to rolling out its service in trials in Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

The merchants indicate a level of confidence in the venture's ability to roll out a widespread mobile-payment system, which would allow consumers to use specific smartphones to tap and pay for their goods and services. Beyond the big chains will be local merchants which Isis said have already been outfitted with payment terminals compatible with Isis technology.

"A strong merchant base in Austin and Salt Lake City will make the Isis Mobile Wallet real for consumers as they choose to use their mobile wallet at many of their favorite merchant locations to pay and redeem offers," said Jim Stapleton, the chief sales officer for Isis, in a statement.

Isis is just one of several ventures attempting to push the idea of a digital wallet to consumers, part of the red-hot mobile-payments area. The joint venture has been slow rolling out the service, instead lining up merchant and payment network partners as it dips its toes into the mobile-payment waters.

By contrast, Google has been aggressive in rolling out its service to different markets, although it has been held back by the lack of support by the carriers and a limited selection of compatible phones. For the tap-and-pay capability to work, phones need to have a special near-field communication chip that works with the payment terminal. So far, only a limited number of phones, including the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, work with Google Wallet.

Isis executives previously told CNET that a number of NFC-enabled smartphones would be available for use during the trials, and that they would be popular models.

Beyond simple payments, Isis will help extend offers and loyalty programs to customers through its payment platform.

While Google has taken more of a dominant role in Google Wallet relative to its partners, Isis has preferred to stand back and act as a neutral platform for others to ride upon. The venture plans to make money off of the delivery of services to its partners, as opposed to taking a cut of the transaction or utilizing customer data for targeted ads.

Beyond the merchants in Salt Lake City and Austin, the carrier stores in those cities will help drive adoption of Isis.