The Common Electronic Purse Specifications, which Visa International has been championing, have gained adherents in Europe and Asia.

Two top banks in Ireland, announcing a Visa Cash smart card program last week, said they intended to "migrate" to the standard known as CEPS.

In another significant endorsement halfway around the world, the NETS network in Singapore is doing the same, adding to the momentum CEPS has been gathering since the spring.

Visa officials are talking in terms of a "de facto standard," with more than 90% of all stored value or electronic purse cards committed to CEPS.

Mondex, the smart card venture controlled by MasterCard International, remains aloof. Its officials have raised questions about the "seamlessness" claimed by Visa and say there are potential fissures in the European unity.

CEPS' first big breakthrough was support from the German association ZKA, which operates Geldkarte, one of the biggest smart card systems in the world.

Others buying in to CEPS, seen as a prelude to cross-border acceptance of chip cards along with the unification of European currencies, include Visa's Spanish affiliate Sermepa, SSB in Italy, the Swedish Cash card program, and Proton World International, of which Visa is a part-owner.

Europay International, a MasterCard affiliate, also agreed to support CEPS implementations.

Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank, which have a national market share exceeding 80%, are participating with Telecomm Eireann in the "information age town" of Ennis. A 12-month demonstration will involve 300 merchants and a test of home devices for loading value on cards.

Gaylon Howe, Visa senior vice president for chip products, said "the impending introduction of the euro and the need to have an electronic purse that will become interoperable with other schemes" led the Irish organizations to choose Visa Cash. All Visa Cash programs-there are eight million such cards in 19 countries-will use CEPS "to ensure interoperability," Mr. Howe said.

Mondex opened an Irish franchise last year with Ulster Bank and National Irish Bank, a subsidiary of National Australia Bank.

NETS is regarded as one of the world's most technologically advanced payment organizations. Its banks have issued 1.2 million CashCards in two years. It is one of the few to adopt a multi-application card system and was the first to use the Visa Open Platform based on Java programming technology.

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