Pitroda creation creates waves in mobile commerce market

C-SAM Inc., an intellectual property (IP) rich company founded by Pitroda in 1998, has been picked by Isis, the mobile commerce joint venture between AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, as their mobile wallet technology partner. As part of the alliance C-SAM's software development kit (SDK) will power the three operators' upcoming mobile transaction applications. The announcement made on Aug 4 is seen by the mobile commerce industry as highly significant with potential for global impact.

For Pitroda, an early pioneer of handheld computing with his 1975 patent of the Electronic Diary and digital phone switching work in the late 1970s, the mobile wallet platform completes a big circle of inventive thinking.

"After 17 years of relentless work, which began with my first mobile wallet patent in 1994, we now see the emergence of the right ecosystem for the mobile phone-based transaction technology to proliferate. I believe our mobile wallet platform elevates smartphones to a whole new dimension by turning them into powerful transaction devices," Pitroda, who has lived in Chicago for over 45 years, told IANS in an interview.

"C-SAM's mobile wallet platform is perhaps the first truly original global software technology product to come out of India after its fundamental ideas were created, perfected and patented in the U.S. I see this as a possible trend for Indian information and communications technology industry as it confronts the serious challenge of jumping up the value chain. It is important that India now gets into the league of creating global products rather than remaining just a vast human resource of low and mid-level technology professionals," Pitroda said.

Pitroda also serves as an adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He was chairman of India's National Knowledge Commission and is respected internationally as an inventor, entrepreneur and development thinker.

What is remarkable about Pitroda's technology is that he conceived of it at a time considered the Stone Age of mobile telephony when smartphones were nowhere on the horizon.  It was a result of a simple question -  what if a leather wallet could be replicated in the digital domain without losing its look and feel? In his critically acclaimed book "The March of Mobile Money" Pitroda recounts.

"Sitting across from the dining table in our Chicago home one late evening in the early nineties, as I saw my wife Anu write checks for numerous bills - groceries, gas, retail, travel, entertainment, utilities, credit cards and others - it occurred to me that there must be a better way to do this somewhat monotonous task." That better way turned out to be a series of patents by Pitroda that forms the core of the mobile wallet platform to issue financial instruments over the air with multiple security and ability to aggregate.

"For the past ten years we have carried out a lot of missionary work to educate the various stakeholders, including banks, mobile operators and merchants, how mobile wallet has the potential to totally alter the landscape. I have been saying this for a while that this technology is already changing our concept of money. From using livestock as currency thousands of years ago to printed money to plastic cards, we are now in the midst of a seminal shift where we will spend in bits and bytes," Pitroda said.

It is in this context that the Isis announcement is being viewed by the stakeholders.

There is already talk of the Isis-C-SAM alliance spelling trouble for Internet search giant Google's own version of mobile wallet. Apart from an impressive number of services that C-SAM's wallet is capable of, what is giving it the edge is that it supports Near Field Communication (NFC), which is the industryspeak for the ability to conduct all manners of transactions directly from one's mobile phone by tapping it on a point of sale terminal in stores. This NFC capability opens the way to bypass having to use physical credit or debit cards or present discount paper coupons.

C-SAM's technology allows transaction apps such as mobile banking, bill payments, brokerage, money transfer,  person to person payments, micro payments, insurance,  ticketing, coupons, loyalty, advertising, prepaid airtime, stored value, gift cards, parking, security, city services, transit and student services.

The Isis announcement stands out because for the first time it brings together leading mobile operators to offer these services. Pitroda believes the Isis model has "everything it takes to be the global model in terms of scaling the mobile wallet."


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