IT heavyweights to boost e-services in Asia

IT heavyweights to boost e-services in Asia

An assembly of leading players in the industry has banded together to spearhead the development of mobile electronic services across Asia, via a multifunction bank card which will be embedded with smart card technology.

The Asia Mobile Electronic Services Alliance (AMESA) boasts of partners that are key players in their markets including Microsoft, Visa International, Nokia, SingTel Mobile, Ericsson, Singapore Post, smart card provider Gemplus, Hong Kong Post, and Hong Kong's telecommunication service provider SmarTone.

Led by Standard Chartered Bank, AMESA will combine public key infrastructure (PKI), mobile phone, smart card and open standards to build an infrastructure that supports secure mobile electronic services in Singapore, Hong Kong, and other Asian markets, said the partners.

Smart card transactions today are bound by the limited access to fixed terminals such as the multimedia kiosks or PCs, according to Nicholas Fung, head of chip and e-commerce, card services, consumer banking, Standard Chartered Bank. Fung is also AMESA's project director.

By fitting mobile phones with AMESA-enabled smart cards, customers will be able to use these phones to access a whole range of electronic services including banking, e-commerce, bill payment, trading and information, according to the group.

Presently, smart cards still need card readers to enable payment transactions, Fung noted. "That is why the alliance is moving towards an electronic platform," he added. "So every [AMESA-enabled] card holder with a mobile phone will have ubiquitous access to services."

For the first time, consumers will have the ability to transact and access services whenever and wherever they choose, said Mervyn Davies, group executive director, Standard Chartered Bank.

AMESA picked Singapore and Hong Kong as the first two regional markets to launch its services because the two countries are "absolutely committed" to developing cutting-edge technology and electronic commerce, Davies said.

The countries also have some of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the world. More than one million Singaporeans have a mobile phone, according to the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore (TAS).

The group hopes to unveil its first suite of services by the second half of 2000, which will include the smart cards, PKI, mobile phones and open standard platform, he said.

AMESA's combined investment is "significant", and currently stands at about $US10 million, a figure that "will increase as more partners join in", said Fung. The alliance is intending to attract 500,000 users within three years, he added.

AMESA's bank cards will differ from other smart cards in the market because they will be based on an open standard platform, providing for "multiple markets and multiple services", thus offering consumers a wider range of selection, Fung said.

Not only do open standards enable the adoption of advanced technology, they also provide seamless access to payments, Davies said.

Open platform also promotes interoperability, added Luca Chow, chief executive officer, SingTel Mobile.

Visa and Standard Chartered Bank will initially develop the platform, and it will be "up to the other players [including banks or service providers] to take up the platform and offer their own services over it", explained Fung.

Once properly established, AMESA will release the source code of the platform, Chow explained, noting that there may then be licensing issues to tackle.

Another partner, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, will provide its campus as the test site for the electronic services.

The alliance's other academic partners, including the National University of Singapore, will conduct AMESA's research and development work and market surveys, Fung said.

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