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Multi-application: cards or handsets?

Week 24, 2009

There was no technology obstacle to multi application cards. From the beginning developers of Operating Systems were able to provide solutions to separate each issuer’s data, and ensure each application issuer was made responsible for his application data and his application users. Multi application did not happen in the 1990s because the industry did not succeed in bringing all stakeholders to agree on sharing the card memory, sharing the card cost, and even harder, in sharing the card surface.

Some recent announcements hint things may be changing:• Inside Contactless and HID announced a pilot for US Bank in which a Visa payWave card is used for physical access control (cf. Smart Insights #09-23),• The Arab African International Bank (AAIB) has launched Egypt’s first health care credit card that both stores patient health related information and can be used as a payment means.

The next step, on a totally different scale may well be London 2102 Olympics. Local authorities have already established the same card should be used as an access ticket for the Olympics events, and to pay for transportation to and from the event, with an Oyster functionality. Now, they consider adding a Barclaycard Visa payWave function in the same cards, as has been done with the Barclays OnePulse credit card, which means this card would have a contactless payWave application, and Oyster application, an event ticket (probably contactless) application, a contact Chip-and-PIN application, and a magstripe, for Visa compatibility.

Now, the industry has alternative solutions with NFC. An NFC project can be seen as at the height of multiplication: issuers can install several applications in a NFC handset, and the user keeps control over which application he is using. The recent development of App Stores is also a very positive step in the direction of multi application: mobile phone subscribers are getting used to downloading an application, installing it, running it, and discarding it when they don’t want to use it any more.

We still have some ground to cover until an NFC payment or a transport application will be easy to download form an App Store, and the user will be able to install it by himself. To achieve this, we need a wide installed base of NFC handsets, flexible secure elements that allow OTA update, and a global security infrastructure to manage payment-related applications remotely. Who will be the first to set this up?

Thierry Spanjaard
Chief Editor
Smart Insights