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Smart cards pay for Net access

A European telecom giant experiments with Newtons and mobile phones to connect to the Net, using smart cards to pay for the service.

A multinational European telecommunications giant is launching a smart card payment trial using Apple Computer's Newtons and mobile telephones to connect to the Internet with a mobile phone network.

Smart cards will be used to pay for the service in the trial. Users will also be able to buy services and information from the Net with the smart cards.

Unisource, a joint venture of the national telephone systems in Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and Spain, is using the Global System for Mobile Communications network in the trial, which is focused mainly in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

"By using the instant settlement feature of smart card technology, we enable a simple pay-as-you-go service," said Julian Wilson, the Unisource director who initiated the new service. "This network of cash registers and ATMs on the Internet offers our customers a very low-cost, flexible billing system and the consumer a far greater choice for less commitment."

Smart or chip cards--plates the size of credit cards with embedded chips--are far more popular in Europe than in the United States. Europeans commonly use "stored value" on smart cards as an alternative to cash to make purchases.

Unisource is positioning the trial as an alternative to subscriptions to an ISP for online access. Users will be able to log on to the Net wherever they have Global System service, a widely used standard in Europe.

For example, customers and employees of Dutch airport Schiphol can check flight information on a Web server. In Britain, a Web site for Time Out magazine will sell information on restaurants and entertainment.

Payments are made by inserting a Mondex card into an Apple Newton MessagePad 2000 handheld device that runs a Web browser and e-commerce protocols from Unisource. Participants will be able to load money onto their Mondex cards with their bank account through the Internet.

Nokia Mobile Phones, a major Finnish manufacturer, will support the Unisource protocols in its Nokia 9000 Communicator, and those phones will be added to the pilot this year. The trial will involve employees of Apple, Mondex, and Unisource.