MasterCard, Visa Vie for Wireless Victory

FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - MasterCard International Inc. last week asserted that it has taken the lead over rival Visa International Inc. in the race to turn wireless e-commerce into a reality.

Both companies have spent the past six months signing alliances with key wireless software and hardware vendors, in anticipation of a new world in which consumers use "digital wallets" to make payments online or at stores.

The digital wallets, which come in the form of either server-based software or chips embedded in smart cards or handheld devices, allow consumers to pay for online purchases easily.

Art Kranzley, a senior vice president at MasterCard in Purchase, New York, touted the company's agreement last week with Toronto-based 724 Solutions Inc.

- which has developed highly secure mobile payment software - as a sign that MasterCard has "taken the lead" in payment services for wireless customers.

But Margaret Reid, vice president of multifunction platforms at Foster City, California-based Visa, countered that it's too early to declare a victor.

She said the focus should be on practical issues that are of paramount concern to consumers and merchants, not on capturing a technology lead. The consumer has no desire to tote around multiple methods of electronic payment, nor does the merchant want to install a variety of a systems, Reid said.

That means standards, not technology, will rule the day. "We're a great proponent of standards and have worked in the past with MasterCard. ... But in wireless, it is almost too early, as there are competing organizations with different standards. Ultimately, one or two of those standards will work out," Reid said.

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