The major players in mobile payments

A who's who of the most recent partnerships for the hot, and rapidly growing, mobile payments sector.

Jessica Dolcourt Senior Director, Commerce & Content Operations
Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Commerce & Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Commerce, How-To and Performance Optimization. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds. Jessica began leading CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
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Jessica Dolcourt
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The mobile payments universe is expanding at a terrific rate, but the key players are still working their angles to convert amorphous opportunity into real, viable services that retail-hungry Americans will trust and use.

The companies are getting closer every day, as corporate heavy hitters bring weight, money, and experience to nimble start-ups through a web of partnerships. Traditional credit card brands, online payment companies, carriers, and smartphone manufacturers are all jumping into the game in various ways by joining to form coalitions, buying up tiny mobile payment start-ups, and attacking rivals' credibility by going straight for the panic button of consumer's everywhere: security against fraudsters.

Making matters more confusing is the fact that "mobile payments" refers to a broad category encompassing everything from NFC (near-field communication), where you tap the phone at a physical terminal to register a payment, to methods for buying products using an app or other software on a tablet or phone. (Read more about the four types of mobile payment.)

As mobile payments solidify from concept into reality over the ensuing months, this post will serve as a periodically updated who's who, with a list of recent relevant stories to help anchor a still-shifting payments landscape.

How mobile payments will work (FAQ)
Making sense of mobile payment
Who will profit from NFC, mobile payments?
What needs to happen before the iPhone gets NFC

Key players

ISIS, a joint venture with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile, headed by CEO Michael Abbott. Has forged partnerships with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. There are plans to deploy mobile payment testing in Austin, Texas, and Salt Lake City in 2012. We should see each carrier release a branded mobile payment management app.

Sprint's Nexus S 4G Android smartphone is the first to work with Google Wallet (see below). The lone carrier to operate outside of ISIS has also committed to supporting American Express' Serve mobile-payment application for digital purchases and peer-to-peer payments (a la PayPal).


Google, which seemingly aspires to master all it surveys, made its first mobile payment move with Google Wallet, an app and payment system that combines deals and discounts with NFC and digital payments. At the onset, Google Wallet will work with MasterCard's PayPass system and only on Sprint's Samsung Nexus S 4G. Citi and FirstData are also partners. Google Wallet is currently undergoing trials in San Francisco and New York, and is meant to launch in full "this summer."

Square is an app and a small, cubelike credit card-reading attachment that slips into the 3.5mm headset jack of mobile phones and tablets. Co-founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey, also of Twitter-founding fame, Square lets businesses (often small business owners or individuals) swipe credit cards through the Square attachment to accept payments. The app also manages peer-to-peer transactions in competition with PayPal. Square has also been pitched as an alternative to NFC.

PayPal, eBay-owned pioneer of peer-to-peer payments online, already has several apps for mobile phones, and APIs so that other app-creators can add PayPal modules to their own software (like Bump).

Phone manufacturers: Nokia and Samsung are the first to bring NFC-enabled handsets to the U.S. market (Nokia began with NFC as early as 2008). Microsoft's next wave of Windows Phones will also be NFC-enabled, according to at least one report. Although multiple manufacturers build the handsets running Windows Phone 7 (including Samsung and Nokia), Microsoft can dictate hardware requirements across the board, including the minimum mark for cameras, certain hardware buttons, and features like NFC. Microsoft hasn't commented on the record, and neither has Apple, which continues to be a subject of ongoing NFC speculation and discussion.

Credit card brands and banks have already partnered with each other and with other mobile payment players to spread their eggs to multiple baskets. Visa, for instance, has invested in Square, American Express buddied up with Sprint, and MasterCard and Citi got cozy with Google.

VeriFone came out swinging against Square. Assuming that NFC catches on with mobile phones, the makers of payment terminals will also fiercely battle for contracts to replace current point-of-sale terminals or create new hardware for stores, train stations, taxi cabs, doctor's offices, and anywhere else tap-to-pay systems reside.

Services and ventures

PayPal shows off mobile tap-to-pay
eBay-owned online payments company jumps into the near-field communications fray with a demonstration using Sprint's Nexus S at the MobileBeat conference.

Google unveils mobile payments, coupon service
Google Wallet and Google Offers are unveiled at an event in Manhattan.

Square vies with NFC for mobile payments
Through its revamped mobile apps for iOS and Android, Square is looking to offer an alternative beyond NFC to pay for items via a mobile device without the need for cash or credit card.

Visa to launch digital wallet system
The credit card vendor is forging ahead in mobile payments, readying a new service that supports NFC technology and that allows for quick transactions via mobile phone or other device.

American Express invests in mobile payments with Payfone
American Express continues its push into the emerging space of mobile purchasing, making a $19 million investment in mobile-payments provider Payfone.

Report: Sprint also planning mobile payment service
Like its other major U.S. competitors, Sprint says it plans to let customers use their smartphones to pay for items via near-field communication, or NFC chips.

Report: Amazon exploring mobile payments via NFC
A report says the online retailer is weighing whether to build a mobile payments and marketing service for smartphones.

T-Mobile: Mobile payments coming to U.S. in 2012
Executives of parent company Deutsche Telekom say the company will enable mobile payments with NFC chip-equipped phones in some countries this year, and in the U.S. next year.

Partnerships and acquisitions

Verizon, American Express partner on mobile payments
Verizon customers will be able to make purchases on their phones by typing in their phone number.

Mobile-payments JV strikes more credit card deals
ISIS, the joint venture between AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile, is the first to strike a partnership with all four credit card issuers.

Samsung, Visa to give NFC payments a boost
As sponsors of the 2012 Olympics, the companies are teaming up to offer consumers the ability to make mobile payments via near-field communications at the games in London next year.

VeriFone, PayPal dial up mobile payments deal
Partnership brings more tech cred to VeriFone in its battle in the mobile payments arena, where it's squared off against well-funded start-ups.

Sprint, American Express partner on mobile wallet
Sprint nabs a second mobile-payment partnership following its part in the Google Wallet announcement.

eBay buys Zong for $240 million
Acquisition of mobile payments provider expected to bolster PayPal's platform and reach.

Verizon finds new partner for mobile payments
The wireless company says it will partner with mobile payments start-up Payfone. Customers can charge items via devices to their monthly wireless bill or through a credit card.

Visa acquires Fundamo mobile payment service
Visa continues to gain ground in the mobile payments market with the acquisition of Fundamo, a service that is already prevalent in at least 40 developing markets.

Milestones and projections

Square handling $4 million daily in mobile payments
The mobile payments company says that its credit card reader attachment for mobile devices has raised daily transactions by another million since late May.

NFC mobile payments could hit $50 billion by 2014
Transactions conducted through NFC mobile payments could reach $50 billion throughout the world within another four years, according to a new report from Juniper Research.

Gartner: 141 million to use mobile payments in 2011
The number of people adopting mobile payments will surpass 141 million this year, up from 102 million in 2010, according to research from Gartner.

Square raises $100 million for $1 billion valuation
Investment by venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins quadruples the valuation of the mobile payments start-up in just six months.

Eric Schmidt: Mobile payments at retail to explode
Google's executive chairman and former CEO says as many as one-third of retail stores and restaurants will allow for mobile payments within the next year.

NFC mobile payments could hit $50 billion by 2014
Transactions conducted through NFC mobile payments could reach $50 billion throughout the world within another four years, according to a new report from Juniper Research.

Report: Wireless carriers rethink mobile payments
AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile USA are abandoning plans to build their own payment network as they rethink how to address the mobile payment market.

Report: Next Windows Phone OS to tap mobile payments
The software giant is expected to include technology in its next mobile operating system that will turn phones into an electronic wallet.