Citicorp, First Union Corp., and a host of technology companies have endorsed a technology from Sun Microsystem Inc. as their preferred platform for smart card development.
The announcement comes just a week after Visa said it would adopt the Java Card standard for its next generation of smart card products.
As competing technologies duke it out for dominance in the world of stored-value cards, Sun's Java programming language is being promoted as an "open" standard that will allow many competing card brands to be accepted by the same point of sale devices and over the Internet. Industry experts also said the technology has the flexibility to allow issuers to create customized smart-card products.
"It's in the interest of the industry to see a critical mass of terminals and (smart) cards available to consumers," said Henry Lichtstein, a Citibank vice president.
Joining the banks in their announcement supporting the technology are several leading smart card developers, including card manufacturers Gemplus, Schlumberger, Bull Group, Integrity Arts, and Gieseke & Devrient; chip makers Motorola and Hitachi; terminal manufacturer Verifone Inc.; and software developer Toshiba.
"It's a very positive development," said Benjamin Miller, chairman of the Cardtech/Securtech conference. He called Java "the right program at the right time." Mr. Miller explained that the programming language "provides a short cut to what could have been a very frustrating period of competition in the area of developing an open platform."
He noted the various competitors working together could make Java "the de facto standard" for smart cards.
Eric Planchard, president of Microcard Technologies Inc., a subsidiary of Bull Group, said Java will help card issuers "develop multiple applications quickly."
He noted the large size of the North American market and the various number of players involved in smart cards makes interoperability between card brands and terminals "crucial."
Mondex, a stored-value smart card company owned by MasterCard International and 19 major banks, has not come out endorsing Java, but Mr. Planchard said he "thinks they will." Bull Group said it will use Java Card 2.0 in developing applications for Proton, the other leading stored-value card system, recently licensed by American Express Co. and marketed by Banksys, a consortium of Belgian banks.
Citicorp is planning a test of Visa Cash cards in Manhattan, N.Y., in the fourth quarter, along with Chase Manhattan Corp.'s test of Mondex. That stored-value pilot will test interoperability between Visa Cash and Mondex. Java will not play a role in the pilot, a Visa spokesman said.