Challenging the smart card community to make the most of the technology at its disposal, Gemplus Group of France said it has added data base capabilities to its chips.

The card manufacturer introduced PocketBase, which can turn the card into a component of the vast stores of customer and business information that bankers and others view as crucial to cross-selling, profitability analysis, and related strategies.

Far more than a simple electronic purse, PocketBase "puts smart cards in the middle of an information system," said Dominique Trempont, president of Gemplus Americas, Redwood City, Calif.

It was one of a slew of products released by industry innovators at the recent Cardtech/Securtech '98 in Washington, but Gemplus' announcement had an edge to it.

Mr. Trempont and other officials have been outspoken about the need to find broader and "mission-critical" uses for smart cards. They now describe Gemplus as a "solutions company," not a card and reader manufacturer as it was once characterized.

To succeed with "solutions," they suggested, an entire industry will have to break free from older, narrower definitions.

Gemplus credits its early leadership position to its roles in the mobile and public telephone industry as well as a fair share of financial and loyalty applications.

But "the business case is not just in debit and credit," Mr. Trempont said at a Cardtech/Securtech press conference. "It will lie in additional revenue creation, market share, positioning of companies, and security."

Building on a partnership relationship with Microsoft Corp., the widespread availability of data base programs in Structured Query Language (SQL), and the Open Data Base Connectivity (ODBC) interface standard, Gemplus' PocketBase can play a role in the development of identity, loyalty, transportation, government, and other programs from large computers down to the portable intelligent device.

PocketBase-a "code name" that Gemplus said will not be flaunted as a brand-is designed to reduce the friction between the way information is stored in smart cards and the way central technology infrastructures operate. Information can be managed and instantaneously interpreted on the smart card using the standard data base methodologies.

"Developers can now integrate a broad set of ODBC-related tools and expertise to build the next generation of smart card applications in a client/server world," said Microsoft data access product manager Robert Green.

"This allows smart card developers to build applications from the card to the desktop to the data center using familiar tools," said John Landwehr, Gemplus director of product marketing.

"The breakthrough is that nobody else makes it possible to use such commonly available tools in the card environment," said Donna Jeker, vice president of strategic marketing and alliances.

An example of PocketBase-scheduled to be officially available in late summer-was the shipment of 200,000 cards to the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia. Two million cards are to be distributed by mid-1999 in hopes of improving service quality, simplifying administrative procedures, and enhancing security.

Besides showing PocketBase at its Cardtech pavilion, Gemplus also:

Demonstrated smart-card-based authentication and log-on to the Microsoft Windows NT 5.0 operating system. Gemplus was one of several companies signing on to a Microsoft-sponsored certification program that will result in the placement of Windows logos on smart card readers for personal computers. Gemplus also demonstrated how its GPK 4000 card and reader can secure on-line transactions.

Demonstrated GemXpresso RAD, for rapid applet development using the Sun Microsystems Inc. JavaCard 2.0 application programming interface and 32-bit RISC (reduced instruction-set computing) processor. Multiple applications strain the common, current level of 8-bit programming. Gemplus has developer kits on the market and said it will have 8-bit and 32-bit deployment cards late this year.

Announced Smart Card Solutions Seminars for education and business-case development, the first in June near Gemplus' California offices. "We believe U.S. companies are ready to make a quantum leap in their use of smart cards but they need information in order to make educated decisions," said Ms. Jeker.

Gemplus archrival Schlumberger attracted similar attention with a series of product announcements and implementations. It joined Gemplus and others in the Global Chipcard Alliance, a two-year-old interest group; put itself in the forefront of the Microsoft PC-smart card testing program and the Visa-Java Open Platform initiative; and took a license for developing applications in Multos, the MasterCard-Mondex chip card operating system.

Schlumberger Smart Cards and Terminals showcased numerous uses of its technology, as in Aliroo Ltd.'s PrivaSuite document encryption software; Cyberpro Technologies Inc.'s plan to distribute 120,000 cards for registrations and promotions to members of the Quebec Soccer Federation in Canada; Standard Register Co.'s card personalization programs; and USIS Inc.'s health-care cards.

Schlumberger also introduced the Easyflex multi-function smart card to North America. Previously launched in Europe and South America, Easyflex with the FastOS operating system is the basis for what has been called "the world's first citywide smart card program" in Curitiba, Brazil.

In its first phase, 30,000 municipal employees are being given a smart card for identification, access control, payments, and banking. Electronic ticketing for buses will follow, with the cards operating in contactless "walk-by" mode.

Next year the program is to be extended to city employees' families and then to the entire population of 1.5 million.

The same platform is in use in Finland's national bus system, showing "it can meet the requirements of diverse cultures," said Jonas Andersson, Schlumberger business segment director.

Bank of America, heretofore an aggressive tester of smart cards, announced its first issue to clients-a security enhancement to the Wanda Electronic Services program for corporate cash management.

Vice president Bette Wasserman called it a significant result of a four- year research and development effort that included issuance of Visa Cash and multiple-application cards to employees. A year ago they began testing cash transfers on the Internet.

The Wanda cards are "not a pilot, but a standard way of doing business going forward," Ms. Wasserman said. With the BankAmerica Corp. subsidiary serving more than 600 large-corporate clients at 1,000 sites worldwide, the company expects to issue these cards "in the thousands." They are just beginning to go out in packages that each include two cards and a Smarty, a device from Fischer International Systems Corp. that makes chip cards readable in PC disk drives.

The cards become a secure, cryptography-based key for account access and customization of services, ensuring clients' "complete control over critical cash management functions," said Joe Hollis, senior vice president of product management, BankAmerica cash management services.

Gemplus had "Gemtropolis," a make-believe city where it could demonstrate the multiple applications of travel, vending, parking, transportation, financial transactions, and gaming. Unafraid of making a commentary on recent headlines, the digital signature vendor Verisign helped create "MegaBank."

With on-line software and security companies enCommerce Inc. and Litronic Inc. and the Internet forms company UWI Inc., Verisign sought to illustrate how "the global leader in advanced banking has implemented a paperless system for merchant banking partners to conduct on-line transactions and for internal employees to access human resources information on-line," said a press release.

In other words, secure sign-on with smart cards and digital certificates is not a pipe dream.

DataCard Corp. of Minneapolis and Spyrus of San Jose, Calif., teamed up to demonstrate and begin marketing a card personalization system with a digital certificate option.

Based on the Spyrus Lynks privacy card and Rosetta smart card with Spycos operating system, "this is built to support multiple applications in commercial and government environments" such as employee badges, student ID, building access, on-line authentication, and secure e-mail, said Spyrus communications officer Ken Mohr.

DataCard, meanwhile, said it has formed Enterprise Co., a new business unit for large-enterprise identification, authentication, and secure access systems. Best known for photo IDs, badges, and driver's licenses, DataCard wants to expand through digital imaging, biometrics, and smart cards, said Enterprise Co. president Michael Shields.

The Smart Card Industry Association gave its 1998 Outstanding Smart Card Application Award to the Seoul Bus Association.

From a pilot in March 1996, the Korean system has grown to 8,700 terminal-equipped buses from 90 companies on 409 routes. The five million cards in circulation are generating three million transactions a day, 45% of the bus network's total. More than 2,000 value-recharging units are used 80,000 times a day.

The runners-up were two British-based loyalty programs, Shell Oil and Boots the Chemists; the Metaco LLC payroll system in Mexico; and the NETS smart card initiative in Singapore. Previous winners included the German Geldkarte project, the Spanish social security system, the U.S. Department of Defense's MARC program, and the French bank card system.

Antoinette Coulton contributed to this report.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.