A $400,000 investment by Verizon Communications Inc. in start-up CardStar Inc. may not sound like much, but it’s a hint that wireless carriers are realizing that commerce is going increasingly mobile, and that there are various ways for operators to get in on the revenue earned by enabling such transactions.

CardStar is the creator of a mobile-phone application that enables users to consolidate all of their membership cards and loyalty programs -  be they frequent flier miles or buy-one-get-one free offers from a local merchant – in one place.

“The carriers have long been looking at the mobile wallet idea,  especially mobile payments,” said Andy Miller, CardStar’s chief executive. “But mobile payment is not here yet. So, what else is in someone’s wallet? A lot of different cards, and the common thread is loyalty cards.”

Mobile-payment technology has moved slowly because not enough merchants have proper point-of-sale technology to process payments from phones. Verizon is reportedly teaming up with AT&T and T-Mobile USA to test a mobile-payment service that would allow consumers to pay with their smartphones at cash registers or taxis. In the meantime, Verizon’s investment - made through its venture capital arm Verizon Ventures - suggests that major operators are keenly interested in other methods of mobile commerce too.

CardStar is just one of many companies with an app to organize membership and loyalty cards. But the company differentiates by also offering a back-end system that functions like a portal for merchants.  Merchants, no matter small, can launch their own promotions, discounts and loyalty programs with CardStar, alerting users to the deals via the application.

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