Have you heard of Roland Moreno? Or are these names familiar to you: Schlumberger, Gemplus, Bull/Oberthur, Giesecke & Devrient?
No They sound a bit foreign, don't they? It is a well known fact that the only names worth noting in IT are solidly Anglo Saxon, like Gates and Jobs. So these foreign people cannot be of any importance.
Wrong. These are the big names of the smartcard world, which is about to permeate every nook and cranny of our lives. Ah, but smartcards are quite new, aren't they?
Wrong again. Roland Moreno, a "funny Frenchman" as he called himself at the smartcard show at Olympia earlier this month, filed his first smartcard patents in 1974, nearly a quarter of a century ago. By 1983, France Telecom started using smartcards for payphones, and today 500 million smartcards are issued globally for 200,000 phone booths. Even BT has started using them.
The Phonecard is not the only application. About 30 million GSM mobile phones have smartcards inside them, mostly in Scandinavia and Germany.
Countries, such as Germany and Holland, give their populace health smartcards.
The same thing could happen with Identity smartcards.
Smartcards now have the processing power and memory size of early PCs.
The processing power means that they can handle biometric security checks and encryption which make the four-digit PIN numbers of magnetic stripe cards look pathetic. The bigger memory means that they can hold patient records and store value in loyalty cards.
The main PC application for smartcards will be electronic commerce, using their security, encryption and stored value attributes to identify the trader, protect transactions and disburse funds for payment. Then trading on the Internet will take off.
The firms in my first paragraph, the top card suppliers in the world, who churn out over a billion cards per year, are French, German or Swiss.
Not a US company there, although, to be fair, Motorola has a lot of its chips inside their cards. Being a European, I am delighted by this transatlantic technology gap in Europe's favour, although sad because the UK has hardly participated. And it is a market that is exploding by 40% or more per year.
Unfortunately, on the standards front, the Europeans have cocked it up.
Although there is an ISO standard for the physical make-up of the cards and the format of data and instructions, the applications are proprietary.
Nobody seems to be bothering much about open systems. The only standard-makers I could detect at the smartcard show were Europay, MasterCard and Visa.
But they face a crisis. The hottest new smartcard application ever is electronic purses, and MasterCard is pushing Mondex (a British design, piloted last year in Swindon), Visa is pushing VisaCash (a pilot in Leeds later this year), and Belgium and Holland both have pilots, not just for one town but for the whole country, for a competing electronic purse system called Proton. How does a partisan outfit like EMV decide between them?
The reaction of the UK standards establishment to all this is to blame the chaotic continentals, and say that all progress should stop until a UK national smartcard forum sorts out a proper standards infrastructure.
That shows a true Dunkirk spirit, and might have been possible five years ago, but how can they hope to clear the swamp, when the whole world is already up to its neck in frogs?
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