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US Pay by Phone System

You know that thing where you just tap your credit card to pay for stuff at the store? That functionality will be coming to smartphones in the U.S., this time apparently for real, via a national phone payment network called Isis, spearheaded by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

High Technology Product Reviews | Trends and News | US Pay by Phone System

Besides negating the need to pull out your credit card, the "mobile wallet" in your phone is planned to incorporate reward cards, coupons, tickets, and transit passes. Isis will use near-field communication (NFC) technology to make payments. NFC encrypts data for very short-range transmission – a matter of inches. When you need to pay, just launch the Isis app, wave your phone over the machine and you've paid up.

The idea of using your phone to make payments isn't new -- Japan's FeliCa has been around for years – but it's been slow to take hold in America. There have been many pilot programs for cell phone payments over the last decade, but none have gained traction. This time, though, the cooperation of three major U.S. carriers could give the tech its best chance of success so far.

"This is just day one," said Isis CEO Michael Abbot in an interview. "I know there's been a lot out there with mobile payments. What Isis does is that it brings scale. The partnership brings almost 200 million consumers to the table."

The service will roll out to smartphones first and later to feature phones. Currently, though, there are virtually no phones equipped with and NFC radio, which Isis would need to work. However, if AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile were to put pressure on handset makers to include it, that could change.

"We'll put forward a specification," said Ryan Hughes of Verizon. "So we'll look to our OEMs to comply with our requirements just as they have done with us for many years."

Hughes says concerns about the security of NFC tech have been addressed, and that third parties won't be able to read your phone's financial information. But what if you lose your phone?

"[The app] is locked down with a password," says Abbot. "But more importantly: one call and it's wiped out. It's inherent to the Isis network. We're building this thing from the ground up with security. The reality is this is safer than plastic."

Isis is working with Discovery Financial Services pay network, used by 7 million merchant nationwide. However, existing equipment does not include NFC tech and each piece of gear would have to be upgraded or replaced to work with Isis. Barclaycard is expected to be the first financial company to partner with the service.

Abbot promises that despite the checkered past of mobile payment systems in the U.S., Isis is no trial run. "There's a lot more to come. This is just the beginning."

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