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Big Blue, Sharp to collaborate on 'smart card'

IBM is collaborating with Sharp Corporation in Japan to develop a high-capacity flash memory card equipped with IBM's Java Card Open Platform (JCOP) OS, the two companies disclosed last week. The 1-megabyte IC cards represent a big step up in storage capacity from conventional 16 to 32 KB cards, said Angus McIntyre, IBM’s product line manager for embedded Java products.

"We strive to put the card issuer at the center of the value chain," McIntyre told eADT. "It’s the Visas and MasterCards of the world, the government and security firms doing enterprise ID. JCOP gives them an industry standards-based solution that allows them to go out to bid with multiple card manufacturers."

Sharp and IBM Japan have successfully equipped Sharp’s large-capacity IC card with JCOP31, the latest version of JCOP. It supports various industry standards, as well as encryption and authentication functions, including Java Card 2 specifications 2.2, which define a Java platform for IC cards, and GlobalPlatform 3 specifications 2.1.1, the world standards for enabling multifunctional IC cards.

Developed in 1997 at the IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory, JCOP is an embedded operating system for integrated circuit (IC) cards. (Java Card is an IC card platform developed by Sun Microsystems.)

Early last year, the company released a set of JCOP development tools, which function as plug-ins for the Eclipse IDE.

JCOP is the key to Big Blue's ongoing smart card strategy, says Anoop Ubhey, senior smart card industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"IBM is looking to partner with silicon and smart card manufacturers to bring the commodity components to the entire solution," Ubhey says. "The company can leverage its service offering and weave its way through the commoditized markets to offer the extra value that customers seek."

Smart cards have gained recognition in Japan through consumer applications, such as smart commuter passes and electronic money, and are now finding wider use in the public sector, McIntyre said.

In the U.S., smart cards are primarily used as security identification module (SIM) chips in mobile phones and as "more fraud-resistant" credit and debit cards, says Forrester Research analyst Andrew Bartels. Those two uses represent 87% of all smart cards sold, according to Forrester, which is about the same percentage as in 2001, while the use of smart-card technology for other purposes -- such as loyalty cards; local transit cards, and corporate, health care and government IDs -- has stagnated.

IBM and Sharp plan to exhibit the JCOP-based IC card during the upcoming Cartes 2004 smart card trade show in Paris next month, McIntyre said.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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