Bits & Bytes
THIS CARD MAY COLLECT STACKS OF CYBERBUCKS
LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE PLANning for the day when the Internet can really be used to conduct business--actually buying and selling stuff. One problem: how to collect the cash? Mondex, a subsidiary of National Westminster Bank PLC, believes the simplest, safest way to effect electronic payments on the Internet will be smart-card technology it has developed with Midland Bank PLC.
The scheme relies on a chip developed by Hitachi Ltd. that can be loaded with a certain amount of electronic cash via ATM machines or specially equipped phones. Funds are directly debited from the card by any device--say, a company's Internet server--that has a similar Mondex chip installed. That way, a company can charge for the information it makes available on the Internet on a direct "pay-per-view" basis.
The company says there is sufficient security built into the chip to prevent counterfeiting the signals passed between the two chips. At least 100 manufacturers, including Texas Instruments and AT&T Global Information Systems, have applied to make Mondex-compatible gear. Next spring, Mondex will test the debit card with 40,000 banking customers and 1,000 retailers in Swindon, England.EDITED BY PAUL M. ENG