Qualcomm’s Firethorn Begins Rollout of Wireless Gift Card Ahead of Holiday Season

Three years ago, San Diego’s Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) paid $210 million in cash to acquire an Atlanta mobile banking startup called Firethorn Holdings. At the time, some commentaries emphasized that mobile banking in the United States was emerging at a snail’s pace. Even Firethorn founder Tripp Rackley told GigaOm last November, “It’s going to be a long time before mobile payments take off; there will be a lot of people trying to make that happen. But until we go into a grocery store and see people pulling phones out to pay, we won’t be there.”

This year, however, Qualcomm’s Firethorn is showing new signs of life, with a series of announcements that suggest the mobile commerce subsidiary has some big plans for the shopping season just over the horizon:

—In March, Qualcomm named a 25-year veteran of the financial services industry, Rocco Fabiano, as Firethorn president (replacing Rackley), saying he would provide strategic leadership as Firethorn expands into new markets.

—Firethorn said in early August it had signed American Apparel, the Los Angeles-based clothing manufacturer, to accept its “Swagg” mobile application in time for the 2010 holiday season. Swagg is a mobile application for smart phone users that enables shoppers to purchase a “virtual” gift card that can be stored, personalized, and exchanged on smartphones.

—Less than a week later, Firethorn disclosed a collaboration with Discover Financial Services (NYSE:[[tickerDFS]]) in which the Discover Network will provide core processing services for payment transactions when Firethorn’s Swagg customers use the service at certain merchants (such as American Apparel).

—Earlier this week, the florist retailer and gift shop, 1-800-Flowers.com (NASDAQ: FLWS), the world’s largest florist and gift shop, also signed on as a Swagg-participating merchant in what appears to be part of a recurring announcement tactic, calling attention to its “growing list” of participating merchants.

Taken together, the recent spate of announcements reflects the … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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