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Smartcards with huge memories

Sumo can store 224MB on a credit card

Gemplus's new Sumo (Secure hUge Memory On-card) technology will put a new generation of applications to run on smartcards, according to Gilles Michel, Gemplus' president of financial and security services.

Sumo packs seven 32MB Flash memories driven by a Risc (reduced instruction set computing) processor, for a total of 224MB bytes of on-chip storage. Most existing smartcards typically have on-card memories ranging from 8KB bytes to 64KB, with even the then-prototyped Qdos card shown at last year's Tomorrow's World show only packing 16MB.

"With that amount of storage, users can download music and video onto a smart card," Michel said in a keynote address at the Cards Asia conference in Singapore on Tuesday. "It can help solve the crisis for the music industry caused by free downloads as smart-card technology can also provide digital rights management."

Advances like Sumo will propel the smartcard market into an era where a range of different form-factor devices contain embedded processors and memory. The smart-card market will thus evolve into a smart-technology market, according to Michel.

"Smart technology will be found in PDAs, watches and passports," he said. "Already, Hong Kong's smart ID card looks like a one-page passport, with digitised photograph, fingerprints and stored personal data."

Michel said that Gemplus had surveyed the end-user market to see what consumers expected from future smartcards. The survey showed that 75 percent of consumers expected that smartcards will become an important part of their daily lives. An equally high proportion felt that a smartcard will become the most important item in their wallet.

"Consumers want something secure, easy to use and customised," Michel said. "The cards must be multi-application and handle areas such as ID, payment, health information and transport system use."

In developing the cards Gemplus found that the conventional approach using gold wires coated in resin 'greatly exceeded the admissible thickness' of the card. So a special bonding process, called 'Silver Glue' (pictured), was used.

The list of applications for a lifestyle smart card include electronic cash, authentication for physical access to buildings and logical access to the web, loyalty programs, payment systems and personal data, Michel said.

The cost of producing a powerful card like Sumo is still too high for the mass market, at over £70 per card, according to Michel. He estimated it will take between one and two years to reduce the cost of producing such a card to the £14-£20 price range, when they may become viable for widespread use.

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