A test that will let some French consumers carry out smart card transactions on mobile telephones is being planned by a group of card companies, mobile telephone companies, and a French bank.
The experiment is to take place in the fourth quarter, according to two leading participants, MasterCard International and Oberthur Card Systems, a smart card vendor. The other companies involved are Group Credit Mutuel, the second-largest card issuer in France; France Telecom Mobiles; Motorola Inc.; and Europay International, MasterCard's European affiliate.
At the start of the test, the bank is to issue one million smart cards based on the EMV global standard for use in mobile telephones. Customers will be able to do business with merchants that enroll in the program.
According to MasterCard, the test will be the first mobile commerce test based on open standards in France, which is one of the most advanced markets for smart cards.
"Now we're going through a big change in the industry, away from proprietary solutions, to very interoperable, highly scalable solutions," said Christopher Jarman, vice president of electronic commerce and emerging technologies at MasterCard in Purchase, N.Y. "We want to fill in that piece of the jigsaw that enables the industry to move on to a much more mature situation."
Most significant to the test's success will be to enlist a wide merchant base willing to participate in the early stages of mobile commerce. Mr. Jarman said merchants are being courted vigorously and that hundreds will participate.
Many of the merchants will be young companies that provide services suitable only for mobile phones, Mr. Jarman said. For example, a person could pay a monthly fee to get an electronic message through a mobile phone every time a certain football team scores a goal.
Mobile commerce will be the impetus for a host of new types of companies, just as the Internet was, Mr. Jarman said.
"It's going to be quite a change from the way people interact and receive information," he said. "Mobile commerce is a whole lot more than just taking the Internet into a mobile environment."
The test is the first of seven planned for different parts of the world as part of a joint marketing and development agreement signed by MasterCard and Oberthur this year. The two companies are working to enhance Oberthur's chip card product for use in Global Systems for Mobile communication, or GSM, phones, in order to support MasterCard's credit, debit, and stored-value applications.
MasterCard said most of these tests will be announced this year and at least one other will be up and running by yearend.
Claude Brun, managing director at Group Credit Mutuel, said, "We believe that one of the best ways for Credit Mutuel to distinguish itself in the French marketplace is to give our customers the highest level of convenience in their daily life, with the highest security and confidentiality."
With the upcoming test, "we are beginning to deliver the full power of smart card technology to our customers, wherever they travel or buy, anywhere and anytime, globally," Mr. Brun said.
Both MasterCard and Visa International have recognized the importance of mobile devices in the future of financial services.
In November, MasterCard formed a global mobile commerce team and has been busy signing partnership agreements with wireless technology companies. In late March, it announced a partnership with 724 Solutions Inc., a company in Toronto that makes software for wireless transactions.
Visa has been working with a Swedish mobile company, Ericsson, to embed credit card information directly in a mobile device using radar technology. In this case, the handset is the communication device, not the smart card.