Verizon Wireless Executive Joins Carrier-Led Mobile Wallet Initiative

Isis, the joint venture formed by three of the top U.S. carriers, has appointed Ryan Hughes to the position of chief marketing officer.

Hughes, the former Verizon Wireless VP of business development and partnerships, joined the organization only four days ago, we have learned.

Isis is a joint venture between AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile that will try to get a piece of the huge payments market. When the JV launched in November, it had announced only the appointment of Mike Abbott as CEO.

Abbott’s background includes working in credit card services and for GE Capital, so Hughes will bring his expertise from the wireless industry.

The Isis initiative will be going up against a host of other players–some of which are direct competitors, while others, taking a slightly different approach, could act as partners.

For example, Square is trying to turn the cellphone into a point-of-sale machine for small businesses, Boku and Zong have been primarily focused on selling digital goods that get charged to your carrier bill, and others–ranging from PayPal to Visa and MasterCard–have strategies, as well.

Isis’s initial focus will be on using near-field communication–or NFC–chips to enable customers to make purchases in a store by waving a phone over a compatible reader.

Hughes’s appointment is part of the organization’s initial ramp-up. Once the management team is in place, it will be officially based in New York, with offices in Atlanta, Dallas and Seattle to be close to its carrier partners.

Hughes will feel right at home at Isis, having been part of the original team at Verizon Wireless that helped hatch the joint venture behind closed doors over the past two years.

In order for it to be a success, Isis will need the participation of the carriers, handset makers, merchants and banks.

Hughes said they are open to working with everyone and is optimistic about all of the suppliers working together–even the fiercely competitive carriers. “It’s going to happen faster than any of the pundits think it will happen, for near-field, in particular,” he said.

Over the next 18 months, the organization has the goal of introducing its service in a few key markets.

Abbott added that meeting its goals will have a lot to do with relying on standards and technology that already exist. NFC has been around for years, and already the likes of Google is integrating it into its next version of Android.

The longer-term vision is that it won’t be just about payments, but about the whole wallet–by combining coupons, location check-ins, loyalty points and cards in one place.

Abbott declined to provide specifics on how the organization is funded, other than that it’s supported by a substantial investment from the carriers involved.

For now, Sprint is the only one missing from the list of major U.S. carriers.

Hughes admits that the initiative will likely need as many carriers on board to get enough scale.

Back when he was representing Verizon Wireless, he thought it was impressive enough to say that he covered 90 million consumers when talking to banks or merchants. “But we were told frequently, and more often than not, ‘That’s a lot, but I don’t want to do this three or four times [for each carrier].'”

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