Wellingtonians who take up smartcards next year as part of their city’s City Card joint venture with Visa International will carry an electronic purse based not on the existing Visa Cash but on a Belgian technology which already has 30 million users.
In what could prove to be a decisive move in the emerging global e-cash market, Visa, American Express, Banksys of Belgium and public transport systems developer ERG have become shareholders in Proton World International (PWI), formerly the technology arm of Banksys and developer of the Proton electronic purse.
Visa will head a working group to define the common electronic purse specifications (CEPS) to which PWI’s technology will conform.
PWI will support Java as an application programming interface for smartcard development, and use the Visa Open Platform “as well as other specifications”. Visa Open Platform based on Java has recently come into direct competition with Multos (multi-application operating dystem), which 51% Mastercard-owned Mondex International has been pushing as an industry standard.
Meanwhile, Peter Godfrey, president of American Express Europe, announced that his company would maintain both its Proton and Multos licences and would be working to implement Proton on Multos to further the goal of interoperability.
Mondex will have mixed feelings about such a move, which would further separate Multos from the Mondex e-cash system on which the company was founded
Aligning itself with Proton, which has issued nearly half of the 70 million stored-value smartcards in use in Europe, will be a boost for Visa in its battle with Mondex.
Both Visa and Proton have been at loggerheads with Mondex in the past, and in a clear dig at Mondex, an introduction on the new PWI Web site emphasises that the Proton technology’s security architecture “does not rely solely on chip card tamper-resistance” but is implemented end-to-end throughout the transaction system.
Like Visa’s recently released Java-based “smart” credit card, Proton also uses an embedded chip to support SET (secure electronic transaction) over the Internet.
Visa’s New Zealand country manager, Daniel Jeffares, says interoperability between different systems will be the medium-term spin-off of the PWI deal, but says it will “ build confidence in Visa Cash as a major force internationally”.
Jeffares says Visa has also talked to Telstra (which issues smartcards based on the Dutch-developed Chipper system) about purse convergence, “but that may be a long, slow process”. Our first challenge is to achieve Visa Cash acquiring within Telstra payphones. Beyond that, we’ll see what they want to do.”