Visa and MasterCard, the world's two largest consumer payment providers, made it clear they would not be working together on smart card systems in separate announcements last week.
Mondex International, which is owned by MasterCard, is leading a consortium of more than half a dozen companies to create a non-proprietary system called Multos which it is toutingas the industry standard for smart cards.
Multos should be available by the first quarter of 1998 and will allow consumers to download products or services on smart cards by teller machine, phone or the Internet.
Mondex is already testing prototypes of the smart cards on its own staff with card readers that are built into PCs. Because the cards use chips rather than magnetic strips, developers believe customers will be able to store their most important applications on the card itself. The cards will also store electronic cash as well as debit and credit functions.
Visa, on the other hand, is working with American Express on its own smart card system it has been testing in 18 countries. Like Mastercard, Visa employees will be used as guinea pigs to test the cards over the Internet.
Gaylon Howe, Visa's senior vice president, said in a statement: "Conducting low-cost, cash-like transactions on the Internet must be as simple and easy for consumers as buying small-ticket items with cash and coins in the physical world."
There is bound to be some confusion about the direction both these consortia are taking. Each is striving to make their own technologies the standard but, as with all technology races, there is bound to be a loser and consumers linked into that technology are bound to suffer in the longer term.
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