MasterCard International says it is set to issue the first smartcards containing the company's Multos multi-application operating system by the end of the first quarter next year.
Speaking at a whistle-stop tour of the Asia-Pacific region to evangelise Multos to governments and financial institutions, Richard Phillimore, senior vice president of chip card business development for MasterCard, described Multos as functioning essentially as "a PC on a chip."
MasterCard launched the Multos technology in May together with Mondex International Inc. and six industry partners including Hitachi, Siemens and Motorola in a consortium known as Maosco - Multi-Application Operating System Consortium.
The Multos operating system will let MasterCard smartcard users run multiple applications including vendor loyalty programs, mass transit and electronic ticketing, as well as the MasterCard payment application, Phillimore said. To ensure the integrity and security of the various applications, firewalls will separate the programs, he added.
MasterCard intends to roll its existing electronic cash system Mondex and its global online point-of-sale (POS) debit system called Maestro into the Multos operating system as available applications, Phillimore said.
The Multos-enabled smartcards will also let users download additional applications once the card has been issued. The chip on the card will have 8Kb of memory - 70 times more memory than today's magnetic stripe credit cards, Phillimore added. "The chip will be able to manage transactions, with the card's issuer delegating authority to the card," he said.
Phillimore stressed that Multos will be complimentary with Sun Microsystems's JavaCard application programming interface, once that API was "fully defined".
Multos itself is still at a prototype stage, he added. When the Multos-enabled smartcards first appear at the end of the first quarter of 1998, the embedded-chip technology will come solely from Hitachi, and Phillimore expects that Multos-enabled cards will also contain chips from fellow Maosco members Motorola and Siemens by the end of the year.
Thus far, the membership of Maosco has not increased above its eight founders, but Phillimore said that more than one hundred vendors have applied to join the group. "We have to keep a balance between having wide support for Multos and having a manageable number of vendors to work with," he said. In South Korea, for example, he said three high-tech companies had individually asked to join the consortium, but had been persuaded by MasterCard to get together to propose a single representative for Maosco.