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3 carriers to invest $100m in Isis, a joint mobile-pay venture

Would compete with a similar Google system

By Olga Kharif
Bloomberg News / August 30, 2011

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc., and T-Mobile USA plan to invest more than $100 million in their joint venture that would let consumers pay for goods with mobile phones, according to people with knowledge of the project.

The investment sets up a showdown between the venture, known as Isis, and rivals like a mobile-payment service from Google Inc. The amount of funding depends on how successful Isis is at attracting banks and merchants, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the financing is private.

The carriers have created the alliance to grab a piece of the market for mobile commerce, which lets consumers buy things by tapping their mobile devices against a reader. The market may reach $670 billion by 2015, Juniper Research says.

“It’s a given that people are going to be transacting more over cellphones,’’ said Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst. “It could open a potential new revenue stream for them.’’

Worldwide, mobile payments will generate $240 billion this year, growing two to three times that amount within five years, according to Juniper Research.

Formed last year, Isis also would let consumers receive and redeem coupons via their mobile devices. The service, which will debut in several cities next year, will make money by charging marketers a fee for sending offers to consumers’ phones.

AT&T and T-Mobile declined to comment. The two companies are poised to merge early next year, assuming AT&T’s $39 billion bid passes regulatory scrutiny. Verizon Wireless did not respond to a request for comment.

Isis aims to get ahead of its rivals by relying on its carrier partners’ existing distribution networks and customer relationships. Phones that are set up for Isis service are expected to be available next year at carrier stores in trial cities like Austin and Salt Lake City.

The carriers could preinstall Isis software on their phones, making it easier to use. They also may push handset manufacturers to adopt Isis software.

Samsung Electronics Co. and Research In Motion Ltd. are rolling out new phones that can tap on card-payment terminals at cash registers to make mobile payments. By 2014, at least one in five smartphones globally will rely on a technology called near field communications to offer mobile-payment functions, according to Juniper.