To hopefully clear things up a bit:
NFC payments (not NFC itself) usually need a Secure Element. The SE is where the payment apps and data reside.
Often the SE was built into a SIM and was controlled by the carriers. People often refer to these as NFC SIMs. (Although really, they're SE SIMs. There are also NFC SIMs that include a controller and antenna.)
To use the carriers' Softcard (Isis) wallet, you need an NFC SIM.
The original 2011 Google Wallet used an embedded SE that Samsung and others included in their phones. However, since most of the US carriers wanted to push Isis, they kept throwing up roadblocks (Sprint was the exception), such as ordering the manufacturers of subsidized phones to disabled their embedded SEs. This impeded the adoption of Google's wallet.
Last Spring, Google finally leapfrogged around this blockade by basically implementing their own SE in the cloud solution for phones with KitKat or above. Thus Google Wallet no longer needs or uses an embedded or SIM SE.
Outside the US, both embedded SEs and SEs in NFC SIMs were used for other payment / wallet apps.
Apple, like Samsung years before it, chose to include an embedded SE. However, perhaps aided by making direct deals to include SE payment apps from the credit card brands, they're apparently able to control their own SE.
Isis still normally needs an NFC SIM to work, but they're supposedly in talks with Apple, possibly to share the iPhone's onboard SE.