The world maps of two smart card rivals got bigger last week.
MasterCard International's Mondex subsidiary, which made a breakthrough into Japan four months ago, announced the formation of a franchise for South Korea.
Proton World International, which is partly owned by Visa International, made its first landing in Africa-a potentially extensive electronic purse system to be managed by Securecard Trust Company Ltd. of Lagos, Nigeria.
The signings are the latest indications that smart cards still have plenty of openings for growth. As North American response continues to be sluggish, emerging markets are coming on strong.
With a memorandum of understanding that is one step away from its first African license, Proton now has customers on five continents. Korea is Mondex's 60th country and its 18th in the Asia-Pacific region, where the Mondex Asia franchise is active in such countries or territories as China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
Mondex, Proton, and Visa have all been making strides in the developing world as they compete vigorously for bank licensees and other participants. Mondex and Visa Cash are bidding aggressively for electronic purse business in Eastern Europe and Southern Africa, for example, and Proton plans to expand from its new base in West Africa, using technology based on Microsoft Windows NT.
Mondex International Ltd. of London characterized the establishment of Mondex Korea as a victory for the multiple-application capabilities of its operating system, Multos.
Garry Ireland, general manager of Mondex's Pacific Technology Center, said, "In the coming months, consumers in South Korea will be able to securely transfer funds, conduct Internet banking and electronic commerce transactions, and enjoy customer loyalty programs-all with Mondex electronic cash and Multos."
Mondex Korea said it plans to offer sublicenses to promote national deployment of smart cards.
It already has a strategic alliance with Korea Telecom, which intends to make the telecommunications infrastructure, including a million pay phones, Mondex-compatible. The first step in that process would occur this year as part of a Mondex program for Hanyang University students.
MasterCard, through its MasterCard Korea organization, bought a share of Mondex Korea, continuing a pattern in which the global bank card association takes stakes in Mondex operations. MasterCard International is both Mondex's parent and 51% owner of the extensive Mondex Asia unit (HSBC Group of London owns the rest). It also has 10% of Mondex USA, which is administered at MasterCard headquarters in Purchase, N.Y.
The other Korean partners are Kookmin Bank, Korea Credit Communication Inc., KDB Capital, TeraSource Venture Capital, and Amdahl Corp., which has been a strong Mondex-supporting vendor.
"Already, South Korea has established itself as Asia's second-largest card market, with MasterCard leading this market," said MasterCard Korea president K.B. Kim. "South Korea is a market ready for the latest smart card technology, and we plan to make a significant impact with Mondex and Multos."
In Japan, the biggest economy in the region, the Mondex franchise was formed in February by Sanwa Bank, the JCB credit card company, and MasterCard International.
Aside from Hanyang University, MasterCard and Mondex said, Korean cards could be in circulation early next year at Coex, an "intelligent building" complex, where electronic cash, credit, debit, loyalty, and identification services for 50,000 employees and 200,000 visitors a day would be combined on cards.
Mondex would also be installed next year at the Cheju Island resort for electronic cash and other Multos-driven applications.
Proton-a Brussels-based joint venture of Visa, American Express, ERG of Australia, the Belgian Banksys association, and Interpay of the Netherlands-said Nigeria's will be the first nationwide system to use Proton for Windows NT.
Securecard Trust Co., known as STC, is responsible for providing on a national scale the type of stored-value service that was previously offered in single-bank pilots.
Proton said there is economic pressure for low-cost electronic cash. Nigeria's currency has fallen so far that the highest-denomination bank note, the 50 naira, is worth only 55 U.S. cents, which raises transaction- handling and cash management costs.
Nigeria has a population of 120 million, the largest in Africa, plus about 120 banks and four million personal transaction accounts. The initial goal is to distribute 200,000 Proton-based cards for a pilot in Lagos.
As is Proton's preference-and a point of disagreement with Mondex- transactions will be centrally auditable, and cardholder identities will be verified with personal identification numbers.
"We have provided an end-to-end solution tailored to STC's needs and within the fast time scale required in this challenging new market," said Proton World managing director Armand Linkens. He said he expects the "flexibility and affordability of the Proton technology" to carry it far in Africa.
STC managing director Louis Edozien said he was impressed by Proton's past rollouts "in different countries and situations."
Mr. Edozien said, "We chose Proton for Windows NT, as it is the most secure system on offer, offers fully auditable and traceable transactions, is the easiest to use, and can be integrated very quickly into the existing systems of STC and the banks."
"A fast time to market is critical for us," Mr. Edozien added. "Unlike previous smart card initiatives in Nigeria that foundered due to delays in implementing customized software, we are confident that our scheme will be an early success, and we look forward to its rapid expansion nationwide."
De la Rue Card Systems of the United Kingdom, a leading smart card supplier, said it has chosen Prism Card Technologies as a South African distributor.
De la Rue said Prism won out over several other vendors seeking to provide the U.K. company's authentication devices for wireless phones conforming to the GSM, or global system for mobile communications, standard.
Philippe Courteaux, De la Rue export director, said Prism's skills "rival the very best technical expertise we have seen anywhere in the world."
He said the company already "dominates the local smart card playing field," is registered and approved by Visa, works closely with MasterCard, "and is involved in multi-application development on multiple smart card platforms."