Visa U.S.A. president Carl Pascarella, titular host of the Visa Cash trial in Atlanta, still isn't sure when the case will be solid for smart cards in the United States.

Mr. Pascarella is a believer in chip card technology. "Will it come? Absolutely," he said recently. "The real question is when. The question is about the infrastructure in the U.S."

His back-of-the-envelope calculations might put a damper on domestic smart card enthusiasm: If 10 million merchant terminals need retrofitting at as little as $100 each, it would cost $1 billion over three to four years. And the current card authorization system works perfectly well against fraud and credit losses.

Mr. Pascarella said other countries, such as South Africa, could make better and quicker use of the technology, while the United States would likely see "pockets" of activity, particularly in closed loops like college campuses, which will be stepping-stones to the multi-application cards of the future.

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