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Gemplus Wins Combicard Contract

French smartcard manufacturer Gemplus SA has won a contract to develop a unified electronic-purse card for Malaysia and Singapore that will enable cross-border electronic transactions.

The card will be a first for the two countries and can be used initially to pay toll, parking fees and other transportation-related and retail transactions.

Gemplus country manager for Malaysia Chin Kin Onn said the new card will benefit frequent travellers between the two countries, and will be especially convenient for daily commuters via the two road links.

"The initial phase is for a dual-chip card that will have both contact and contactless capability for the respective Singapore and Malaysian transactions. In future, the cards' functions may be merged on a single chip to handle digital transactions in either currency - Malaysian or Singaporean," he said.

Chin said Gemplus has received an order for 10,000 cards and expects a significant rise in demand once the cards are introduced in the third quarter of this year.

The new card is a joint collaboration between Rangkaian Segar Sdn Bhd, which has about 1.2 million "Touch 'n Go" contactless cards(see Fig) for toll and other uses in circulation in Malaysia, and Network for Electronic Transfers Singapore Pte, Ltd (NETS), which has issued over 5.5 million NETS CashCards for a variety of uses in Singapore.

Both companies have previously adopted technology supplied by Gemplus.

Gemplus' tie-up with Rangkaian Segar to develop the Touch 'n Go card and electronic payment system back in 1998 has proven to be a highly successful alliance. The system for low-value, high-volume transactions in the transportation sector has taken off with current estimates of over 500,000 transactions processed daily.

Simple to Use, Reload

Payment is effected when the user touches the prepaid card on a smartcard reader for toll payments on highways across the country as well as for the light rail transit and bus transport in and around the capital city.

Rangkaian Segar also markets SmartTAG, a battery-operated, infra-red transmitter used in combination with the Touch 'n Go card that enables automatic toll collection when a vehicle fitted with the device passes a toll booth.

In Singapore, the NETS CashCard, first introduced in 1996, is widely used to pay for purchases made at retail outlets, vending machines, public pay phones, car parks, libraries and the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system.

Cardholders for the new hybrid card in Malaysia can reload their cards at any Touch 'n Go point-of-sale outlet or automatically upon usage at the toll lane if it is linked to the user's credit card or bank account. Cardholders in Singapore can do so at Automated Teller Machines, major petrol stations and over the Internet.

Gemplus, which was successfully floated on the Nasdaq and Paris bourse in December, is the world's largest maker of smartcards, but has suffered setbacks from slowing global demand in the telecommunication industry. In recent months it shed some non-core units of business and offered staff voluntary redundancy packages. In Malaysia, the company has delayed plans to set up a plant to cater to regional demand.

by Julian Matthews, Kuala Lumpur

(September 2001 Issue, Nikkei Electronics Asia)

Copyright (c) 1996-2001 Nikkei Business Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.