Austin added as second city for mobile wallet launch

Isis mobile wallet service to begin in first half of 2012

Isis officials today named Austin as their second 2012 launch market for the carrier-backed venture that relies on Near Field Communication-ready smartphones to help consumers buy goods from merchants.

Isis, a joint effort between AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, earlier said that Salt Lake City would be the first market to pilot its mobile wallet system, in early to mid 2012.

Austin was chosen because it has tech-savvy consumers and merchants, Isis CEO Michael Abbott said in a statement.

Austin's test of Isis will also kick off in the first half of 2012, although it isn't clear whether Austin or Salt Lake will go first. In Austin, consumers will be able to purchase and redeem offers sent to their cell phones at "participating merchant locations throughout the city," using NFC-ready smartphones, Isis said in a statement. It did not name specific merchants.

Isis has named the Utah Transit Authority as one of the participants in the Utah pilot.

Isis could be making today's announcement to show that it's moving forward with NFC payment technology even as other groups are apparently moving faster. Google, Sprint Nextel and others recently announced an NFC-based smartphone payment system called Google Wallet. Field tests of Google's system are already underway in New York and San Francisco, and a fuller rollout to consumers is slated for this summer. Google Wallet will initially support payments by Mastercard credit cards from Citi; shoppers will be able to use the system to pay for goods at 120,000 U.S. stores, including Macy's, Walgreens, American Eagle and Bloomingdale's.

In early May, Visa announced a separate NFC-based mobile wallet system that's due to launch in the U.S. and Canada in the fall.

Without question, U.S. credit card companies, banks and wireless carriers are lining up to offer NFC-based mobile payment systems, but some have raised questions about when there will be enough NFC-ready smartphones -- and when merchants will show sufficient interest in NFC payments -- to ensure wide adoption of such systems.

Analysts have noted that Google, wireless carriers and banks are primarily interested in NFC because they want to be able to engage in customized marketing campaigns that make use of mobile coupons that match retailers with their prime customers. NFC is a two-way data communication technology that makes it possible to bring data from various sources to smartphone users as they move about or shop.

Despite the push by backers of NFC, some say there is relatively little consumer interest in the technology -- at least in the U.S. In a recent poll of 1,000 U.S. consumers of all ages, only 21% of the respondents said that they wanted to buy smartphones equipped with NFC chips.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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