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Isis mobile pay service may start trials in August

The joint venture of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile will launch with compatible Android and BlackBerry smartphones, as well as a sleeve that works with iPhones, CNET has learned.

Google Wallet may have some company in ISIS next month.
Roger Cheng/CNET

Isis, a joint venture among Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile USA, will likely start trials of its mobile-payment service in August, according to a person familiar with the launch plans.

The August target, however, isn't set in stone. CNET has gotten indications elsewhere that the timing may change. A representative for Isis only said the service would begin trials in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas, this summer, pushed back from the prior forecast of a mid-year launch.

Isis will join Google Wallet in its attempt to get people to start paying at cash registers with their smartphones instead of a credit card or cash. Unlike Google's initiative, which launched last year amid a lot of fan fare, Isis has taken a slower approach, building up a wider number of partners, including retailers, payment networks, and banks, in an effort to offer consumers more options when signing up.

The sluggish pace at which Isis has moved and the lack of adoption on Google Wallet's part underscore the difficulties of shifting consumers away from their entrenched method of payments. Both companies see an opportunity to layer additional services on top of smartphone payments, including digital receipts, coupons, and targeted advertisements based on purchases.

In fact, CNET tested Google Wallet out in May near the one-year anniversary of its announcement and found it difficult, and at times awkward, using the service.

Isis hopes it has a smoother rollout with its limited deployment. The venture will launch with Android and BlackBerry smartphones equipped with near-field communications chips, which enable the phones to make mobile payments at upgraded cash registers, CNET has learned. The venture will also offer sleeves with NFC chips for iPhones, getting around its lack of NFC.

Isis declined to comment about the different phones it would launch with, deferring to the carriers. Several BlackBerrys already come with NFC chips, as does the newly released Galaxy S III. Verizon's Galaxy Nexus has an NFC chip, but its Google Wallet feature remains disabled by the carrier. Sprint also offers the Galaxy Nexus, but it isn't part of the venture, opting instead to align itself with Google. It too may consider an alternative.

Isis also has a different business strategy than Google. Isis plans to remain a neutral partners to banks, payment networks, charging companies to run on its platform. That's a change from its initial strategy of attempting to take a cut of each transaction, which the financial companies balked at. Google, on the other hand, wants to maintain the customer data for use in delivering mobile ads and recommendations. Isis doesn't keep or even look at personal user data.

CEO Michael Abbott told CNET in February that it was holding a massive education campaign in the two cities to alert merchants and consumers about the service. Along with a different range of phones, it will also work with payment networks Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover, as well as credit card issuers BarclayCard, Capital One, and Chase.

Isis has yet to talk about when it plans a broader launch, but for now it remains heads down and focused on getting the service and technology right.