Several French banking organizations have joined forces with France Telecom in what is billed as the world's first secure mobile commerce service.

Using specifications of the credit card standardization body Groupement Cartes Bancaires, the service was begun Aug. 4 on a trial basis. The service is delivered on wireless telephones that conform to the Global System for Mobile communications -- or GSM -- format that is dominant in Europe. Smart card readers in the handset offer a higher level of security than would passwords alone, the companies said.

Two banks, Credit Commercial de France and Credit Mutuel, were joined by five merchants, including the flower retailer Aquarelle and wine merchant ChateauOnline, in the initial phase of the service that France Telecom dubbed Iti Achat. (Iti is short for Itineris, the national GSM service.)

The program uses Motorola Inc.'s StarTac-D phones paired with smart cards developed by De La Rue Card Systems for the GSM subscriber identity module, or SIM. France Telecom said it expects a full-scale launching in about six months, after a second trial phase slated to begin Sept. 20 with 20 more merchants and additional participating banks: Banque Nationale de Paris, Caisse d'Epargne, Credit Lyonnais, and Societe Generale.

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