Siemens Semiconductors has joined the ranks of smartcard vendors to license Java technology for use in smartcards for electronic commerce, mobile communications and healthcare sectors.
One of the benefits of using Java on smartcards is that it allows for the running of multiple applications on a single card and also lets users download new applications onto their cards, Siemens officials say.
"We think this is the right solution to building up multiple-application smartcard systems," says Ulrich Hamann, vice president and general manager of chip card ICs and Identification System ICs at Siemens Semiconductors, a division of Siemens AG.
Siemens and Sun held a joint press conference to announce their plans. They expect the smartcard market to grow from 600 million chips on the market now to between 21 billion and 35 billion by 2010, Hamann says.
"Fifty percent of the market is in Europe now," Hamann says. "I see this changing to 30%, while the US will be 25% of the market and the rest will be in Asia-Pacific countries within two years. In the next two to three years this market will be driven by Visa and MasterCard."
Siemens and Sun started talking about new chips based on Java technology in February after Siemens decided it needed Java know-how to build an optimised CPU.
"The idea here is to accelerate Java execution in smartcards - that is really the mission we see now for ourselves and Siemens, to make a new push in the market of accelerating Java in these smart chips," says Peter Harverson, director and general manager of Sun Microelectronics in Europe.
New smartcard chips will make smartcards the ultimate thin client, says Scott McNealy, chairman, president and CEO of Sun Microsystems. As ever, McNealy positions the announcement in terms of its impact on the ongoing Sun-Microsoft. competition, saying that smart cards will be vulnerable weak spot for Microsoft.
Siemens Semiconductors expects to ship 16-bit smartcards that comply to the JavaCard platform in mid-1998. France's Gemplus SA, which along with Schlumberger SA is part of the Java Card forum, also plans to issue a Java-based smartcard.
Gemplus hopes to release a Java-based card in either December of this year or January 1998 a spokesman said. Gemplus will base its card on JavaCard 2.0 specification, which provides developers with a common set of APIs to create smartcards that tie into Internet applications and desktops. SunSoft's initial specification JavaCard 1.0 has proved more useful as a research tool rather than as a means to build real applications, a Gemplus spokesman says.