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S'pore unveils standard for micro payment

The new specifications, based on international standards, will enable consumers to use one smart card for various payments in the country.

SINGAPORE--A new national standard has been launched to facilitate interoperable electronic payment in the country, and spur the use of paperless payment.

Speaking at the launch of the Singapore Standard for Contactless e-Purse Application (SS 518 Cepas), Chan Yeng Kit, chief executive of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), noted that next-generation e-payment is a component of the recently-launched 10-year infocomm roadmap, iN2015.

Under the plan, he added, Singapore targets to double the transaction value of card-based payments, electronic money schemes and mobile payments to S$50 billion (US$31.3 billion) by 2010.

Said Chan: "Cepas (pronounced as C-pass) results in a 'win-win-win' for consumers, merchants as well as card issuers. It gives all parties a much bigger common playing field in the e-payments landscape."

Consumers benefit by needing only one card for a wide range of payments, while merchants need to invest only in one system that can process payments with multiple cards, he explained. Card issuers, Chan noted, will have access to a nationwide micro payment environment and thus, be able to develop new e-payment applications.

According to Lin Yih, chairman of the Cards and Personal Identification Technical Committee, Cepas is possibly the world's first initiative to include standardized commands for e-wallet on top of commands for credit and debit. Lin's committee is run under the IT Standards Committee (ITSC), which is supported by the ICT industry regulator IDA and Spring Singapore, a government body that establishes industry standards.

Other than specifications for e-wallet, the other commands in the Cepas follow International Standardization Organization standards, noted Lin. The decision by Singapore to create the new standard was to complement, and not deviate from, ISO standards, he said.

The specifications also contain security features that can support multiple issuers, said Lin. For example, it contains encryption keys for credit, debit and issuer that determine what operations are allowed. In simpler systems, keys can only protect read-and-write data.

The standard has already been endorsed by Singapore's two largest issuers of multi-purpose stored value cards: the Network for Electronic Transfers (NETS) and EZ-Link, which between them, account for 95 percent of the micro payment market in the country.

EZ-Link, which provides contactless smart cards used across the nation's public transport system, has issued more than 8.5 million such cards to date, while NETS has issued some 6 million CashCards, according to respective spokespersons from the two companies.

For a start, the NETS has already started issuing Combi CashCards--cards that operate in both contact and contactless environments, said Jocelyn Ang, its general manager for CashCard and financial transaction processing.

The Land Transport Authority and EZ-Link are also working to extend the use of the EZ-Link cards in Singapore's electronic road pricing (ERP), currently limited to CashCards. ZDNet Asia understands that Cepas-compliant readers at ERP gantries and card units in vehicles would be available within the next three years.

Raymond Lee, deputy director for technology direction at IDA, told ZDNet Asia that the new standard would drive other new products and services which Singapore can export to other countries in the region, and beyond.

However, he noted, while the applications may be used by another country in future, Singaporeans will not be able to use their cards overseas, unless issues such as currency exchange and the sharing of security keys are resolved by operators in the respective countries.