Valista and GemPlus team up to launch e-payment card


10 May 2004

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Electronic payment software firm Valista is providing the transaction engine behind Gem-eCash, a new micropayment card for online purchases developed by French smart card giant GemPlus.

The card is due to be launched in its first market, the Czech Republic, at the beginning of June. It will allow individuals who do not have bank accounts or do not wish to use their credit card online to buy a range of low-cost content. As a micropayment product, Gem-eCash is designed for small purchases, ie those under €5.

“Gem-eCash combines a phone card with a payment method. It is customisable to fixed-line operators that wish to offer secure online payment methods to their online customers,” John Hurley, marketing vice-president at Valista told siliconrepublic.com. The software company was formed through the recent merger of Irish-based Network365 and US firm iPin.

GemPlus and Valista signed an agreement in January licensing the smart card developer to incorporate Valista technology in the e-payment card.

The product is being launched in the Czech Republic by telecoms provider Paynet Group, which has entered a partnership with Seznam, a local web portal providing a range of news and entertainment content to Czech citizens. Visitors to the portal will be able to buy a range of digital content, such as MP3 music files, videos, games, newspaper articles and horoscopes from the site using the card, which Paynet will brand locally as ‘iPlus’.

The card will operate in the same way as a phone card. Online buyers simply scratch off a panel on the iPlus card to reveal the secret code, which corresponds to the amount of prepaid credit they have. Cards will be distributed through normal retail outlets such as newsagents and cornershops and they will be available in €5, €10, €15 and €20 denominations.

According to Hurley, the card is responding to demand for a secure and reliable online payment methods and is aimed at three specific groups of users.

“It is aimed primarily at the ‘unbanked’ market – those who don’t have a banking relationship – followed by those who are concerned about using their credit cards online and also those who don’t want to be marketed to or wish to remain anonymous,” he commented.

As for concerns that the card could be used for illicit purposes, such as the anonymous purchase of paedophile images, Hurley emphasised that the card could only be used to purchase the digital content available through the Seznam site; users would not be able to use it freely across the Net.

Hurley was hopeful that the card would be introduced into several more markets over the coming months. The first of these would, like the Czech Republic, be a developing economy but he added that more advanced markets offered plenty of sales potential for the product too. “In the US, for example, 20pc of ethnic groups are unbanked compared to just 5pc for Caucasians,” he pointed out. Similarly, the Irish market, with its substantial population of immigrants, tourists and students would also offer plenty of scope, he added.

By Brian Skelly