organizing a new company to promote the technology in multiple industries.
Visa said Thursday that it has created GlobalPlatform Inc., a "working consortium" billed as "open to all parties with an interest in the development and use of multiple-application smart cards."
Already signing on as members are high-technology rivals Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., as well as telecommunications companies and smart card and silicon chip manufacturers.
GlobalPlatform is the latest of numerous attempts to rally support from the various constituencies seen as necessary to contribute to a standardized or interoperable infrastructure for advanced card technology. Visa has been behind some of these, such as the CEPS group, supporting the Common Electronic Purse Specifications for stored value cards, and the OpenCard consortium that is closely associated with Sun's Java Card framework.
Despite such cooperation, a philosophical split has persisted between Visa, which identifies its chip card program as Open Platform, and MasterCard International, 51% owner of the Mondex International system. Mondex has refused to join CEPS, though in a sign of potential conciliation, another MasterCard affiliate, the European credit card association Europay, supports CEPS.
GlobalPlatform Inc. has a core of several strong Visa allies. They include, besides Sun, the Spanish payments association Sermepa, which was an early CEPS backer; the mobile phone leader Nokia, which is working with Visa on market trials of wireless services; and Proton World International, a Belgium-based smart card company that is partly owned by Visa and American Express Co.
But GlobalPlatform also has Microsoft, which is offering its Smart Card for Windows operating platform as an alternative to Sun's Java Card, plus two companies that own equity -- as does American Express -- in Maosco Ltd., the consortium that oversees the competing Multos operating system that Mondex developed. Those dual members are Motorola Inc. and the Australian point-of-sale systems company Keycorp (no relation to the KeyCorp bank holding company of Cleveland).
A further endorsement of GlobalPlatform's openness came from David Anastasi, president and chief executive officer of the Global Chipcard Alliance. The alliance began in 1996 as a standardization project of telephone companies, but it has since admitted both MasterCard and Visa and members of their respective camps.
Mr. Anastasi said multiple uses of a smart card, such as for Internet purchases via mobile phones and cardholder authentication at personal computers, are technically possible, "but to achieve widespread use we must see cooperative development from leading global organizations."
He said GlobalPlatform "seems to be a new competitor to Multos."
Gail Francolini, vice president of the global chip marketing group at MasterCard, said Multos has had a two-year head start trying to accomplish the goals now being set for GlobalPlatform. Though she said MasterCard has not yet canvassed its allies for reactions to GlobalPlatform, she said all are "trying to do all we can to push forward the development of smart cards," and "MasterCard is exploring the possibility of joining GlobalPlatform."
GlobalPlatform's aims to standardize the back-office procedures for smart cards that have applications from different industries on one card. To accelerate the process, Visa said, it would make its Open Platform available for free to anyone who wants it, with GlobalPlatform taking responsibility for managing and modifying the specification. The aim is "to bring together a number of entities across industries who have similar preoccupations . . . and to deliver those services around smart cards," said Patrick Gauthier, vice president of smart card applications and market development at Visa U.S.A. "It is time for people from the financial sector, the telecom sector, the government sector to talk with one another and standardize the ways cards are issued and put in the hands of consumers."
Philip Yen, senior vice president of the global products group at Visa International, said the consortium is very different from more educational organizations like the Global Chip Card Alliance or the Smart Card Forum in that it "will produce deliverables that everyone can use."
Mr. Yen and Mr. Gauthier tried to dispel any notions that GlobalPlatform is a competitor to Maosco Ltd., which they called "an organization to promote a commercial product."
"We are not focusing on a particular operating system so it is not against or for Multos," Mr. Yen said. GlobalPlatform "is a standards body with a totally open structure to it. Anyone can apply and become a member."
Mr. Yen said GlobalPlatform expects to announce additional members in November. It will hold its first meeting after Cartes '99, a trade show Nov. 16-18 in Paris, when a board will be elected.
"The philosophy of this thing is great," said Jerome Svigals, a card industry consultant in Redwood City, Calif. "But no banker has gotten up and said this is worth pursuing."