Isis Mobile Wallet looking for new name and new users

Friday 11 July 2014 | 12:02 CET | Background

M-Payment service Isis must go looking for a new name and branding, and a larger user base. The NFC service launched by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile USA is available nationwide. The number of activated wallets is growing, but commercial success will need more than that.

Isis, the mobile commerce joint venture created by AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, is looking to rebrand and distance itself from the name of the militant group ISIS, which has been linked to sectarian violence against civilians and armed forces in Iraq and Syria.

Development phase

The three mobile operators announced the service in 2011, but took time to develop a platform. The app was launched as a public trial in Austin and Salt Lake City in October 2012. Nine Isis-Ready handsets were available in combination with American Express, Capital One or Chase credit cards.

During the trial the m-payment service could be used in a number of shops that also offered promotions and savings. Public transport in Utah enabled direct contactless payment and saw the number of users grow quickly.

The app can also be linked to an account with American Express Serve. By adding American Express Serve to the Wallet, customers will be able to pay bills online and send money to friends and family, as well as add cash to their American Express Serve account or fund it using an existing bank account, any credit or debit card or through direct deposit.

National launch

A year later, in November 2013, the app and services were launched nationwide. Isis published a redesigned Mobile Wallet with a white background and easier-to-navigate toolbars and added payment features.

From 13 November 2013, customers with an NFC-compatible Android phone received a new SIM card for free. The number of suitable handsets was quoted as more than forty. The devices include well-known Android smartphones from Motorola, HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony as well as operator branded phones and smaller makes like Casio and Kyocera.

Currently there are 68 mobile devices across AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless supporting the Isis Wallet. The Wallet now comes preloaded on 14 smartphones with more preloaded devices in the future.

AT&T and Verizon also offer cases for iPhone 4/4S and 5/5s. The case attaches to the iPhone connector and contains its own NFC antenna and Secure Element. The cases are made by ISIS Ready, Incipio or OtterBox. They retail between USD 69 and 119. While this is still an extra cost, the NFC cases themselves have become almost as thin as a standard protective case.

Number of Activations

The companies do not report on user numbers. However in May 2014, Isis reported that it saw an average of over 20,000 Isis Wallet activations per day, and that its growth rate doubled over the prior month.

The number of acceptance point has grown to over 200,000 in the US. McDonalds is testing a service that links QR codes to mobile payment, enabling customers to order and pay before they stand in line to pick up their meal.

After three years of development, the Isis Mobile Wallet is up and running. The three operators each control a large share of handset sales into their customer base and many subscribers buy from a branded shop. Operators are thus able to promote and activate the m-wallet. American Express serves as an intermediary, which means that any credit or debit card can be used to top up the wallet.

The number of acceptance point has grown to over 200,000 in the US. McDonalds is testing a service that links QR codes to mobile payment, enabling customers to order and pay before they stand in line to pick up their meal.

However, the service can only be called a success if the number of acceptance points will grow beyond the retail chains that have supported Isis from the outset and have invested in promotions. It is not likely that these promotions will continue forever. 

The NFC service still has to compete with cash and cards that live in the physical wallet. Credit cards are (almost) universally accepted and for small card payments, no PIN or signature is required. A mobile wallet offers no compelling benefit to the users in this situation.

Activated wallets are not the same as active users. According to Isis, Jamba Juice visitors have already redeemed over 270,000 free smoothies (as of April), but that alone is not enough to feed the NFC ecosystem.

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