Smart cards go wireless at FSU

In a four-month trial, Florida State University students test smart cards that fit into a wireless phone and let them load e-cash or purchase items over the phone.

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Florida State University students will soon begin testing smart cards that fit into a wireless phone and will let them load e-cash or purchase items over the phone.

The four-month trial, to be conducted at Florida State University in Tallahassee, represents one of the first e-commerce applications to use a wireless Personal Communications Service (PCS) system.

Fifty participating students will receive prototype smart cards from Gemplus. Those cards are similar to multiapplication FSUCard smart cards already used on campus for the past several years for student identification, banking, building access, and prepaid purchases.

The new smart card can be removed from the wireless phone and used in vending machines or other devices that have smart card readers. Smart cards are plastic cards the size of a credit card, embedded with a computer chip and generally used for online commerce or security.

The new cards and Motorola (MOT) StarTAC 7000 PCS digital phones will let students in the pilot do banking via their wireless phones as well as place and receive calls, pages, and short-text messages.

Powertel, a wireless service in the Southeastern U.S., will provide the all-digital Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications network for the trial.

CyberMark, the systems integrator for the pilot, likens the smart card-equipped phone to having an automated teller machine, fax machine, PC, and digital communications center in a single pocket-size device.

FSU's 37,000 faculty and student cardholders already use their FSUCards at campus bookstores, laundromats, restaurants, and vending machines. They can load electronic cash to their cards in increments of $1 to $20 at cash-to-card machines on campus. Powertel will deduct the cost of calls from a payment made upfront by the student.

In the pilot phase, the ID card will double as the subscriber identity card in Motorola's StarTAC 7000 handset. In the next phase, the FSUCard's "electronic purse" will be used to pay for PCS communications.

The vendors believe that future offerings may allow students to receive electronic fund transfers from home and retrieve grades on the phone's two-line, lighted display screen.