Visa International and its Belgium-based ally Proton have announced groundswells of vendor support for their respective smart card initiatives.

Visa released the names of more than 20 terminal and systems suppliers that have committed themselves to work within CEPS, the Common Electronic Purse Specifications that Visa, Proton, and others have endorsed as a multinational standard for stored value payment services.

The CEPS coalition, which Visa organized last year, includes sponsors of major electronic purse programs in Germany, Spain, Singapore, and 19 other countries. They combine to represent more than 90% of all electronic purse cards, Visa said.

MasterCard International's Mondex unit, the main rival of Visa Cash, is the biggest holdout from CEPS, though another MasterCard affiliate, Europay International of Waterloo, Belgium, is supporting its members' CEPS implementations.

Visa and Europay, among others, have also joined Finread, a standards project funded by the European Commission and covering a variety of chip card readers.

Proton World International, the smart card outgrowth of the Banksys processing group in Brussels that now includes Visa and American Express among its shareholders, similarly reported a list of "partner manufacturers" that will offer Proton functions with their point of sale offerings.

The names include Verifone, the Bull-Ingenico joint marketing effort, Schlumberger, Dassault, Mars International, De La Rue Card Services, and Intellect Electronics. Citing data published by The Nilson Report, Proton said its vendor group accounts for 50% of worldwide point of sale terminals and 72% in the United States.

"These agreements with terminal manufacturers are evidence of the general enthusiasm for Proton-based systems," said Daniel Skala, Proton World International's executive vice president of sales. "We shall continue to welcome new partners in all aspects of our business and are committed to maintaining the openness of the Proton platform."

"Partnering with the vendor community is going to be imperative if we are to maximize the potential of new technologies," Visa International chief executive officer Malcolm Williamson said last month at a gathering of his vendors in San Francisco.

Stephen Schapp, Visa's executive vice president for emerging products, said 1999 "will be a crucial year" for chip cards and "vendor partners will play a central role in helping to transform the acceptance infrastructure."

"The vendor support for (CEPS) shows how all sides of the payments industry can work together to achieve a common goal which, ultimately, benefits everyone," Mr. Williamson said.

The openness issue remains contentious. While Visa has titled its smart card strategy-of which electronic purse is one part-the Open Platform, Mondex insists that its own Multos operating system is open to anyone. Visa buttresses its case by citing Open Platform's technological basis in the widely embraced Java programming language, which it compares to the "proprietary" nature of the Mondex Executable Language, or Mel.

But Multos, which can be compatible with Java, is supported by many of the vendors on Visa's and Proton's lists. Some have joined Maosco Ltd., the governing body for Multos.

London-based Mondex International has stayed away from CEPS for philosophical and political reasons. Mondex CEO Michael Keegan has been critical of the CEPS governance structure and said the convergence of all those national programs is so complicated that uniform systems are unlikely to be in operation before 2001.

But Visa continues to fight and win some battles. Visa reported getting an Open Platform endorsement last week from People's Bank of China, a country intent on modernizing its payment system around chip cards.

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