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Smart Cards

By means of Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, the new intelligent credit and debit cards have just come to light. Their use is intended for our daily low cost small purchases, such as the usual supermarket shopping, vending machines, public transport, cinema, shops or even restaurants, without always having to carry small change around.

The way these cards work - they are also called contactless - is based on a small integrated chip that connects to the point of sale by radio, and then the point of sale in turn contacts the bank. The card has only to be placed at less than four centimetres from the reader for it to be recognised. Once recognised, it connects to our bank, which will authorise the purchase. In this way it is no longer necessary to hand over our credit or debit card to any salesperson. We only have to be near him or her for the card reader to recognise us and charge us for the amount of the purchase.

The maximum amount of the transactions that can be carried out with this new type of card is established by the users themselves. In this way fraudulent use is very limited, although for the moment this new technology is not capable of completely eliminating this risk.

Currently there are 800,000 points of sale and cash points which have incorporated NFC. This is a good first step for a technology that has just come out, and that is still not very well known. Nevertheless, it is expected that over the next few years the use of smart cards will be a frequent and daily practice, and that it will be present in many day to day activities.

The main card issuing companies -VISA, American Express and Master Card – have already launched their own contactless payment systems, for this technology to take part in all the small monetary operations of their millions of users.

A contactless payment network does not yet exist in Spain, although this can be done using mobile telephones. The first step in the payment by mobile technology was taken by Malaga, when this very convenient system was incorporated in their urban public bus network. Travellers can purchase their bus tickets, either a single, or 10 trips, or a monthly season ticket, with a simple operation from their mobile telephone, and they receive a drawing or photograph similar to a bar code on their screen. All that has to be done is to place the telephone near to the point of sale card readers at the bus stops, for this to read the code on the screen and to validate the travel card to gain access to whatever we have paid for.

All this technology, both the NFC and payment by mobile telephone, may seem like science fiction, but it is not. This new system is coming into use very quickly all over the world, and in a few months will become second nature, and will free us from having to carry around cash to pay for our small daily shopping.

Technology is an unstoppable giant. Even now, with the NFC system still not fully developed, a future alternative to this method of payment is being thought of. Still without any date for its introduction, it would seem that after various years of use of the NFC technology, what will come later will be payment by means of recognition of finger prints, retina based identification, or DNA. For the moment however, this is still the science fiction that we can see in the cinemas.

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