If Informix Software, Hewlett-Packard and GemPlus Card International have guessed right, we will all trade in our stash of phone, credit and automated teller machine cards for a smart card by the millennium's end.
Smart cards replace the magnetic strip of an ordinary credit card with an embedded processor and some memory. Informix and its partners are hoping the cards, which have gained a foothold in Europe and Asia, will create a larger market when more devices, such as kiosks, allow users to access personal information or query databases.
The three-company consortium, christened the ImagineCard Alliance at the Informix Worldwide Users conference in Chicago last week, will test the smart-card market with three pilot programmes starting next quarter in the United States, England and Japan. Wells Fargo Bank will issue smart cards in the United States; NTT Data Intelligent Technology will issue them in Japan; and British Telecom will do the same in the United Kingdom.
French smart card maker GemPlus will produce the cards; HP will supply encryption and networking technology; and Informix will do the database software for processing and authenticating transactions. After the pilot programme, the cards next year will gain relational database access through the Card Query Language embedded in the chip. The cards will also use HP's International Cryptographic Technology.
Beginning in the third quarter of 1998, the cards will be capable of holding more data and adhere to international standards. The alliance predicts 4 to 5 billion smart card users by the year 2000. "By the end of the year, we will know if this is a niche business or something bigger," says Informix CEO Phil White.