No one affiliated with the Isis mobile payment initiative is saying exactly when the first testing in Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas will begin, but the venture is steadily tying its remaining loose ends.
In the past week, Isis, the joint project of major American telecommunications companies, announced that two major retail gas pump manufacturers are incorporating software in the pumps in those cities to communicate with Isis' SmartTap mobile commerce application.
In addition, Isis revealed that Fime SA, a global Near Field Communication testing provider, will certify smartphone handsets and secure elements to assure the Isis system meets functional, security and industry regulations.
Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and AT&T Mobility launched Isis last year with the intention of testing the process during the summer of 2012. Up to this point, Isis continues to note "this summer" as the beginning of the tests, with no specific date in place.
But securing U.S. retail gas pump manufacturers Wayne, a General Electric Energy business, and Gilbarco Veeder-Root Co. to incorporate Isis mobile payment capabilities indicates project organizers must be getting closer to a launch date.
Isis executives were not available for comment, and a representative could not provide clarity on when the venture plans to start its tests. Scott Mulloy, Isis' chief technology officer, acknowledged in a company press release that establishing Isis payment at gas pumps was a key to the project.
"The gas pump is one of the most frequented point-of-sale environments, and a critically important addition to the mobile commerce marketplace," Mulloy said.
Isis reported that Gilbarco Veeder-Root will equip new fuel dispensers to accept Isis for payment, while also retro-fitting current pumps at convenience stores, while Wayne plans to integrate SmartTap into contactless NFC readers on its Wayne iX Pay Secure Payment products.
Previously, Isis had secured VeriFone Systems Inc. and other terminal makers to include Isis integration with retail point of sale terminals.
Isis has also announced agreements with major card brands and issuing banks during the preparation process.
Isis faces some competition in Salt Lake City, as Firethorn Mobile LLC and Burger King Corp. announced last month that the fast-food chain plans to begin testing a mobile payment method in the city's Burger King restaurants.
Isis' progress with the project is difficult to gauge, and with no launch date established the telcos involved send the message that it may be lagging, says Maria Arminio, president of Avenue B Consulting Inc., a Redondo Beach, Calif.-based payments management consulting firm.
"Isis has a different composite of stakeholders and it is always more challenging to set up a testing period with a multi-constituency involved," Arminio says.
While the gas pump agreement puts an important mobile payment element in place for Isis, Arminio suggests fuel pump retailers generally have a complex task at hand in preparing for payment terminal changes.
"The card brands setting deadlines gave the fuel retailers a couple of extra years in preparing for" acceptance of EMV smart cards, she notes. "It's not just about the payments aspect for those retailers because the way it [a terminal change] incorporates into the fueling process makes it more complex."
The timing of the Fime certification announcement made it appear as a last piece to the puzzle prior to the testing launch, but a Fime executive says the organization has been testing Isis products for months and will now officially certify those products.
"The announcement was made at a time when Isis is preparing for an official launch, but there is no connection between the timing of Fime's announcement and the Isis communication plan," says Xavier Giandominici, director at FIME America.
The Fime lab in Montreal will test Isis handsets and SIM cards, a process that takes about three weeks for a handset and two weeks for a SIM card, Giandominici says.
The radio frequency interface of a handset requires thorough testing to ensure it can communicate with a contactless terminal, Giandominici notes. While Fime will not test all terminals accepting Isis, the NFC terminals need to be EMV contactless and include the SmartTap application, he adds.
Fime has "been at the core of the NFC revolution for many years" in working with manufacturers, banks as well as telecommunications, payments and security companies, Giandominici adds. Fime plans expansion with a lab in California within the next year.