Mondex may be closer to computer industry smartcard group

While Visa seeks to leverage its implementation of EMV chip card standards, it seems that its rival Mondex may be closer to the smartcard group most aligned to the computer industry. The OpenCard Alliance counts Sun, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Netscape, Motorola and Oracle spin-off Network Computer (NCI) as members, along with the usual array of card and terminal manufacturers, and is plugging a multi-function Java-based card using APIs developed in Germany by IBM.

While Visa seeks to leverage its implementation of EMV chip card standards, it seems that its rival Mondex may be closer to the smartcard group most aligned to the computer industry.

The OpenCard Alliance counts Sun, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Netscape, Motorola and Oracle spin-off Network Computer (NCI) as members, along with the usual array of card and terminal manufacturers, and is plugging a multi-function Java-based card using APIs developed in Germany by IBM.

In common with the more telco-aligned Chipcard Alliance, OpenCard has failed to woo either Visa or Mastercard (although Chipcard has signed up American Express), and NCI’s director of product management, Jeff Menz, admits that “strategically ... Visa and Mastercard have a vested interest in owning not only the card issuing, but also the services.

“The real question is, can you really, truly have that same degree of ownership that these companies have exerted over clearance of transactions in a multi-function card environment? If you’ve got a smartcard that acts as a credit card and a debit card and a telephone card and a national ID card — what government is going to allow any one company or consortium to control it?”

NCI, which has included smartcard readers in his network computer specs from the beginning, has, however, had dealings with Mondex — as well as with the Dutch firm Chipper and its licensee Telstra. NCI’s NC Card is not yet OpenCard-compliant but will be in six months.

“How it becomes a multifunction card, who we bring a multifunction implementation to market with, is probably going to be based on agreements we reach with companies like Telstra and Mondex,” says Menz. “I don’t know who’s going to go out first.”

“I’ve read the specs and there’s nothing inherent in the Mondex/Multos spec that would prevent it from utilising OpenCard APIs. It’s not really in the interests of anyone on the OpenCard side to have competition in terms of the driver interfaces. We’re going to compete like wolves on the distribution of NC and server software, but we recognise that that the card itself has to be compliant.”

NCI endorses IBM’s view of the NC as a next-generation point-of-sale device, and Mondex recently acquired a vendor of NC-like devices. Menz says American Express has also expressed interest in the NC market.

Jeff Menz is the subject of this week’s @IDG Friday Fry-Up at www.idg.co.nz

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