T-Mobile and Sprint: A merger of mobile payment pioneers

The U.S. telco sector has worked hard to control the mobile wallets developed on its phones. While its earliest efforts didn't last long, companies like T-Mobile and Sprint took decidedly different paths to reach where they are now.

With T-Mobile and Sprint receiving a federal judge's approval to merge, the companies are one step closer to combining the innovations they've created over the years.

Will they prove to be greater than the sum of their parts?

This story was compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald, David Heun, Michael Moeser and Daniel Wolfe.

Sprint, the early adopter
Sprint was more willing than its rivals to support third parties' mobile wallet efforts. These included Google Wallet, which launched in 2011 with Sprint as the only network to support it — the other major U.S. telcos actively opposed putting Google's NFC mobile wallet on their handsets.

Sprint was also an early supporter of American Express' Serve wallet via the Sprint Zone app, which was designed to allow Sprint customers to manage their accounts and pay their phone bills.

In 2012, Sprint also revealed plans to launch its own wallet app called Touch.
T-Mobile and Softcard
While Sprint was eager to partner with tech companies like Google, T-Mobile joined Verizon and AT&T on a competing initiative, originally called ISIS. When that branding became toxic, the companies changed the wallet's name to Softcard, but it didn't last much longer. The Softcard wallet shut down in 2015.

In its early years, Softcard seemed to have several key advantages: distribution through carrier stores, control of the devices' secure element, and cooperation from large issuers like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. But Softcard came out at a time when NFC, the contactless technology at its foundation, was not available on enough phones or at enough retail terminals.
T-Mobile pivots to prepaid
With the Softcard wallet nearing its demise, T-Mobile launched a new mobile payment product, a reloadable prepaid Visa card offered through the carrier's Mobile Money initiative.

The card treated T-Mobile stores as a reload network, but also featured mobile account access and remote check deposit as staple features.
T-Mobile Money
A newer phase of T-Mobile's payment plans was the April 2019 launch of T-Mobile Money, in partnership with Bank Mobile, a division of Customers Bank. The account offered a Mastercard debit card, which could be used for payments and withdrawals on the Allpoint ATM network.

It was not necessary to be a T-Mobile wireless customer to open a T-Mobile Money account.
Sprint and the internet of things
Sprint’s Curiosity internet-of-things service powers the over-the-air device management and intelligent data capabilities of the Dynamics Wallet Card.

The Dynamics Wallet Card was unveiled in January 2018 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with the promise of using an internet connection to allow banks to digitally issue new card account numbers to a Wallet Card holder in case an account is comprised or the issuer desires to upgrade a customer. Dynamics announced its pact with Sprint in July 2019.