It's past time to just come out and say this: the mobile payment ecosystem is a confusing mess. There are a half-dozen legitimate and competing solutions for payment, just as many for digital wallet apps, even more for accepting payments, and innumerable startups, gigantic corporations, banks, carriers, regulators, point-of-sale hardware producers, joint ventures, and merchants all vying for a slice of what could be a very big pie. Somewhere in there is the consumer, who by-and-large is standing on the sidelines watching these entities play their Game of Payment Thrones and waiting to see what solution will actually become ubiquitous enough to actually rely on.

At CTIA Wireless 2012, we expected mobile payments to be an important theme and it is, but not quite in the way you might have thought. For the past year or so, we've been watching companies like Square, Google, Intuit, and more all make their mobile wallet plays with a variety of features: NFC tap-to-pay, location-based payments, mobile wallets with multiple cards, merchant loyalty programs, and various payment options. However, there's been one company that many were expecting to finally make a big splash here at CTIA, called ISIS, that has essentially been a no-show.

We sat down with both Visa and Mastercard to take their respective temperatures when it comes to their relationship with ISIS and talk about their strategies for mobile payments. It's fair to say that when it comes to ISIS, they are lukewarm, but the temperature is rapidly rising on mobile payments in general. The stakes couldn't be much higher — this isn't just about which NFC standard or mobile wallet will win out. In some ways, all of these companies — from credit cards to carriers to startups — are are trying to enmesh themselves in the future of all consumer payments.