Leading U.S. mobile operators AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile have announced a new mobile payments service called Isis, which will allow customers to make payments using their mobile phones. This morning, the company announced its chief executive position has been filled by Michael Abbott, a former GE executive who spent nearly a decade focused on strategy, marketing and product development at his former company.

According to the statement Isis released today, its focus will be on building a mobile payments network that uses "smartphone and near-field communication (NFC) technology to modernize the payments process." The service will be released over the next 18 months in key geographic markets.

About Isis

With Isis, the newly launched website explains, customers can leave their credit cards, loyalty cards and coupons behind, and instead set their preferences on their mobile devices to receive the savings and offers they want.

Involved in the project are Discover Financial Services and Barclays US, part of U.K. bank Barclays PLC, which is expected to be the first issuer on the network.

Combined, the carriers will offer Isis to over 200 million customers. Additionally, it will leverage Discover's merchant network, which now has over 7 million locations nationwide.

"We believe the venture will have the scope and scale necessary to introduce mobile commerce on a broad basis," Abbott said. "In the beginning, we intend to fully utilize Discover's national payment infrastructure as well as Barclaycard's expertise in contactless and mobile payments. Moving forward, Isis will be available to all interested merchants, banks and mobile carriers."

NFC Making Waves

Near-field communications, or NFC technology, has yet to make major inroads here in the U.S., but an initiative like this, combined with concurrent advancements in mobile smartphone technology will soon change that. Yesterday, for example, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced that the next version of Android, the company's mobile operating system (code-name Gingerbread) will include support for NFC.

He also showed off an unannounced Samsung phone, reportedly the so-called "Nexus S," the future Google flagship phone that will feature the latest stock build of the Android mobile OS. The phone will include NFC features, Schmidt revealed to the audience at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, where he was speaking at the time.

Although less publicly, Apple, too, appears to be working on adding NFC technology to its iPhone devices. In August, the company hired NFC expert Benjamin Vigier as its new product manager for mobile commerce. Apple has also filed a number of NFC-related patents, including those for a mobile payments service, "iPay," "iBuy" and "iCoupons," among others. However, little is known about how or when Apple plans to implement these services. Meanwhile, given that Android's Gingerbread mobile OS update is only days away from launch, it appears that Google will be first to ship with NFC support. (Other handset makers have already announced support for NFC, including Nokia, which plans to ship the technology in all smartphones in 2011, for example).

Outside of these high-level efforts from carriers, handset makers and OS vendors, startups like the Palo Alto, California-based Bling Nation have created ways to work around the lack of NFC technology in U.S. mobile devices with the introduction of NFC-enabled stickers for phones and the accompanying readers, the latter of which are provided free to businesses for use at the point-of-sale. As NFC takes off in the smartphone market, with Android and iPhone potentially leading the way, Bling Nation could serve as the alternative method for feature phone users and others without NFC to take part in NFC-enabled mobile payments - that is, assuming Bling Nation can achieve wide enough merchant adoption.

More information about Isis and its plans are now available online at the website www.paywithisis.com