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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Smart card technology for using your mobile phone for payments

24 June, 2009
Advancements in card technology continue to gather pace with NFC phones being the next convergence step for payment cards and physical security
The security industry is a world of rapid convergence but you'd be wrong to think that this is solely as a result of the uptake of IP technology. Another convergence revolution is taking place in the humble plastic card which continues to transform itself by taking on more functionality.

Plastic cards first carried electronically readable information as far back as the 1960's with the invention of the magnetic stripe, a technology that provided adequate functionality for almost three decades before its limitations became too constraining for the additional demands of the banking and security industries.

The first smart cards were invented in the 80's and used primarily as disposable phone cards before the potential for their widespread use became recognised and standards developed for use in the banking industry. Smart cards are easily recognised by their visible contact pads providing connectivity to the embedded chip. With read/write capability, larger data storage capacities and the ability to use them for identification and authentication purposes brought widespread applications to the smart card including their use as mobile phone SIM cards without all that accompanying plastic.

The next logical step was to develop the contactless smart card, a device that doesn't rely on contact points for data to be read or written but can operate at radio frequencies often using RFID technology. With this development, the potential for technology convergence mushroomed.

Now, contactless smart cards are used for biometric authentication, access control, time and attendance systems, cashless payments, loyalty programs, public transport ticketing and computer systems access amongst other things.

At IFSEC 2009, I took some time to talk to Christoph Aschmoneit, heading Key Account Management at LEGIC Identsystems who specialise in non contact smart card technology and are pushing the frontiers of it's applications. I asked him about convergence and what the future holds for the technology.

The answer lies in LEGIC card-in-card solutions which enable additional applications to be integrated via a virtual transponder into existing credentials such as NFC enabled mobile phones. This opens the gateway to a raft of applications for near field communications (NFC) phones. The significance of this is the ability to use a mobile phone as a multifunctional credential for different purposes including access control, embedded transport season tickets and paying for goods at the point of sale. Thanks to the LEGIC multi-application technology all applications can be combined on one single credential. Users and integrators can choose from a vast world of applications, suppliers and installations as the phones behaves like a regular LEGIC advant transponder.

Christoph pointed out that the primary obstacle of technological know-how has been surpassed and the ability to achieve such aims are available and tested. The obstacles to overcome are the availability of NFC capable mobile phone handsets and the challenge of commercial agreements between service providers (i.e. the infrastructure owners) and mobile network operators (i.e. the SIM card owners).

LEGIC have made significant inroads into making contactless smart card technology an everyday occurrence in the security industry. The company's products are used for company badges, entering hotel rooms, student accommodation and leisure centres. They're also being widely used for cashless payments. Taking the chip "out of the plastic" and integrating its functions as a virtual transponder into the SIM card in your mobile phone for accessing the office and paying for your groceries is technically available today, but commercially there are further steps to be taken.
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