Although Europeans have been using multi-application smart cards for some time, such use is still in its infancy in the United States, mainly due to the success of more cost-effective telecommunications technology. But smart card technology companies are betting that Americans are ready to embrace the added functionality of multi-app cards--and now the technology exists for banks do it more cost effectively.

Schlumberger, for example, has created technology for multi- application chip cards that's based on the platform-independent Java programming language, which is rapidly gaining acceptance with more than 150,000 programmers able to write to it. While today's smart card applications are not portable because they were developed in a code that is specific to each smart card company, banks can now add or change applications after the cards are issued with Java.

Multiple application smart cards, which allow the grouping of two or more functions onto a card so that the card will have more than one use, enables a bank to issue one card for credit, ATM, stored value and loyalty program access. Transit applications can also be encoded in smart cards. And Schlumberger has a new card that integrates contact and contactless technology so that a contactless transit card can be integrated with a contact ATM, credit, stored value, and/or loyalty card. "The ideal smart card would have credit, debit, electronic purse and all of the other capabilities of all the cards in your wallet," says James Davis, vp and general manager of Schlumberger smart cards and systems in North America. He says contactless cards take the technology to a higher level as they contain radio frequency transceivers as well as computer chips.

Gemplus, meanwhile, suggests its family of multi-application cards will expand to include new technologies like Java programming as they are accepted in the marketplace.

Visa International has been working with both Schlumberger and Gemplus in an effort to make it easier for banks to migrate from the use of magnetic stripe to multi-application chip cards. "We want our bank members to be able to develop the applications that they want to put on their cards," says Gaylon Howe, svp of chip card products at Visa. "We're also working with vendors of products and services to develop the technology that will allow for chip card payments." --peterson tfn.com

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