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What is a Smartcard

A Smartcard is a standard credit card sized plastic card with an integrated circuit embedded in it. This integrated circuit includes a microprocessor and a bit of memory, which together hold information in electronic form and controls who uses the information and how they use it. The Smartcards ability to store and control many different types of information, as well as its large storage capacity, gives rise to several Smartcard applications. For example, a single Smartcard could take the place of a credit card, a debit card and even be used as an electronic purse to carry Electric-cash (E-cash).

The plastic card itself can incorporate words and pictures or graphics printed on it which can be easily understood by the card holder as well as the people the card holder meets. The integrated circuit holds information in electronic form that can be easily, securely and accurately accessed by all sorts of electronic data processing equipment. Some Smartcards are smarter than others, the smartness of a card depends on the complexity of the embedded processor, as well as the software that is installed on the chip.

Even the simplest cards, like the pay phone cards, are smart enough that they are virtually impossible to copy or falsify. However, the simplest Smartcards do not provide any security against unauthorized use. In other words, if you lose your pay phone card, anyone else can use it. There are of course smarter cards that provide such security by incorporating a password or even a biometric identifier such as a fingerprint to restrict its use to one person.

The most sophisticated cards can manage several passwords and can use authentication and ciphering techniques to provide virtually total security. History behind Smartcards In January 1974 Roland Moreno, a Frenchman and former reporter, devised a revolutionary new payment system. His idea was an electronic stored value application mounted on a ring. His idea was simple, when the bearer needed money, they would ‘load’; the currency onto the ring therefore enabling the bearer to be able to spend electronic money at a store which had the suitable electronic equipment.

Then in March 1974 Roland presented his project to a few French banks where he demonstrated a transaction-taking place from the ring to the reading device. In September 1974 the first chip was mounted onto an epoxy card and this was the birth of ‘Smartcards’;. Then in the next few years Smartcards evolved and took on the size of a credit card. The Chips mounted onto the cards also evolved and in June 1975 a card housing 4Kb of MOS memory was designed by Roland and the manufacturer was CP8 Transac formally known as CII Honeywell Bull.

In 1978, Michel Ugon came on the scene bringing with him a new batch of Smartcards and taking out his first patents. In December 1978 a team of senior executives from four French banks finalized a brief outline on the industries expectations and requirements for memory cards and forwarded it to CII Honeywell Bull. The birth of the first operational microprocessor card (Two-chip card) by Bull CP8 in 1979 housed a memory chip and a SmartCards microprocessor supplied by Motorola. The card was then publicly demonstrated in New York at American Express.

The first Smartcard to be used as a ‘Cardiac pacemaker user identity card’; was a bi-chip CP8 and then the first Tele payment experiment in the world was in the town of Velizy in France in 1981. A year later Philips supplied the US Government with Identification Smartcards. In 1983 France installed 160,000 Card payphones using the Telecom France Cards. In 1984 French banks announced their choice of a CP8 technology chip card manufactured by Motorola and Eurotechnique and they stated their specifications and standards for the bank memory card.

Then by October 1986 there were 250,000 bank smart cards in use. In October 1987 the bankcard could be used in card payphones and each bankcard could hold 140 basic units or 107f worth of calls which then would be debited from their account. Then in 1987 after lots of decisions the Smartcard was questioned about its security and banks moved back to the magnetic strip cards in Europe. Then in 1989 Gemplus obtained a contract for two PAY-TV channels, Sky Movies and the Disney Channel, with memory cards for subscriber identification.

This brought new hope for manufacturers and there was talk of putting the memory card system back into France. The Smartcard has started to be recognized for its potential once again and British Telecom are using a Smartcard for their cardphones and Electricity Authorities have started using smartcards for household meters so that you don’t receive a bill at the end of the month. Boots and Sainsburys have also started using smartcard technology to give discounts and points to customers as well as being able to find out which items are selling well which customers are buying them and at which store.

Boots have also started looking into being able to get your prescription on your smartcard but this would mean bringing out a whole set of new smartcards which read your fingerprint as people could abuse a normal smartcard. Future for the Smartcard A prediction by Philips SmartCard Technology is that there will be 800 million smartcards in Europe by the year 2000 and 2 billion worldwide. Companies are trying to push their smartcards onto consumers and are even sending them in the post to random customers such as Visa and MasterCard.

Worldwide governments are looking into the use of smartcard technology for ID cards, Driving licenses, Social security, Health and Passports. Also most British universities now have some kind of Smartcard technology ranging from NUS cards to access cards and ID cards. Football clubs have also started using smartcards for season tickets and National Trust members will be receiving a smartcard as their membership card next year. Smartcard technology will take off in the next couple of years and we will have a wallet full of different smartcards unless someone designs a multipurpose smartcard for all applications.

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