Maosco Ltd., the consortium that coordinates the Multos specifications for smart card operating systems, is declaring a big victory in Australia.

Multos, the multiple-application system that originated with the Mondex International electronic cash program, has been chosen by an Australian government agency for a far-reaching electronic commerce project.

Given that Mondex and Multos already have been embraced by several top banks and the telecommunications company Telstra, Multos is in a position to be a national standard, a Maosco spokesman said.

It is the latest in a string of successes reported by Maosco, which includes Telstra and the Australian transaction automation company Keycorp among its 13 owners. While Mondex continues to fight hard for every new customer of its stored-value technology, Multos is racking up endorsements such as one in September from 17 African coun-tries in the Comesa economic zone.

Multos was also chosen by American Express Co. -- another Maosco member, as is MasterCard International, the 51% owner of Mondex -- for the recently introduced Blue credit card.

Such victories put Multos in a strong position to match the competition, notably Visa International's Open Platform, as Visa and MasterCard embark on an effort to eliminate back-office incompatibilities between their systems. The bank card associations announced an agreement last week to publish common technical specifications next year, which would be designed to preserve freedom of choice for member institutions.

The deal in Australia was described by London-based Maosco's chief executive officer, Nick Habgood, as "a world-leading initiative that will quickly benefit Australian consumers by enabling the rapid adoption of electronic commerce and remote service delivery."

After what Mr. Habgood called "a comprehensive and objective" evaluation, the chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory said this week that Multos was the chosen platform for interoperable, multiple-application cards. The process that began in mid-1998 with an eye toward an automated bus-fare system led to a request for smart card interoperability proposals in July and August.

The Australian Capital Territory, or ACT, government brought in other jurisdictions, such as Tasmania, Queensland, and Western Australia, on the theory that "the benefits will multiply in accordance with the number of jurisdictions that adopt this platform," said Chief Minister Kate Carnell.

She put the project's significance in national and even international context, calling it "one of the most important initiatives on smart cards taken by a government anywhere in the world."

"Governments, institutions, businesses, and indeed any organization using smart cards can and should adopt this standard, which will create enormous benefits for all Australia," said a statement issued by Ms. Carnell.

Australia, with a population viewed as quick to adapt to new technologies, has long been receptive to smart cards. An estimated 12 million are in circulation for 30 largely incom-patible programs, the ACT office said.

Four major banks -- ANZ, Commonwealth, National Aus-tralia, and Westpac -- jumped on the Mondex bandwagon in the mid-1990s, along with their New Zealand affiliates. The same banks have at least experimented with Visa Cash smart cards, and Westpac plans to issue them in conjunction with the 2000 Olympic Games.

Maosco and ACT released a list of criteria working in Multos' favor, including support by numerous vendors, by multiple financial institutions regionally, and by American Express, MasterCard, and MasterCard's European affiliate, Europay International.

"The Multos solution best meets the government requirements covering privacy and consumer protection legislation and national principles for fair handling of personal information," a fact sheet said. The evaluators also concluded that "this is likely to provide the lowest-cost national infrastructure for government."

"We wanted an open system that would let different organizations develop their own applications but share a card with others," Ms. Carnell said. Now that Multos has been selected, "we can get on with the business of developing smart card applications" compatible across jurisdictions. "Over the next few months we will be identifying the first package of services," setting specifications, and inviting bids.


LONDON -- Mondex International said its electronic currency can be accepted for Internet purchases at the London Internet caf Webshack.

Using smart card readers attached to personal computers, clients can pay for log-on time with Mondex cards. They can also use the stored cash value to pay for digital goods such as MP3 music files, electronic postcards, or screen savers.

The system is the result of a working relationship among the Mondex U.K. franchise, its co-owner National Westminster Bank, and SmartAxis, which has developed a multicurrency digital-cash payment service. SmartAxis said it is in discussions with other Mondex licensees to expand the service, which is open to anyone in the United Kingdom with a PC and Internet access.

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