NEW YORK-After more than two years of effort, standards for interoperability of smart cards for U.S.-based personal communications services received approval May 30.

“It represents a breakthrough. This is one step forward in the same direction of a universal phone that the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) is working on,” said Mark D. Ferdinands, telecommunications product manager of Giesecke & Devrient America Inc., Reston, Va.

The universal phone is at least one step away because the new standards are for removable smart cards that can be transferred to different handsets working on different systems virtually anywhere in the world. However, they aren’t a solution for a single handset usable worldwide.

Ferdinands chairs the Privacy and Authentication Group of T1P1.2, a Washington-based voluntary organization of nearly 70 manufacturers, carriers and other companies involved in wireless telecommunications. The group developed the consensus-based standards for PCS smart card interoperability.

All revisions and balloting on them is complete. The final step, expected by late summer, is having the standards published in the document registry of the American National Standards Institute.

The T1P1.2 Group has coined a new term, “user identity module,” for smart cards designed according to the new standards. This is to distinguish UIM’s from Subscriber Identity Module, or SIM cards, which work only with Global System for Mobile communications PCS 1900 systems.

“The new standards support the GSM family of air interfaces, including DCS 1800 and PCS 1900, and the IS-41 family of air interfaces for CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). The [new] smart cards also will support roaming on AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service) … and nothing precludes their use with satellite systems,” Ferdinands said. “This was a voluntary forum,” he added, noting that Time Division Multiple Access technology proponents like AT&T Corp. didn’t “throw their hat in the ring.”

As with the work of the ITU, the idea behind the group’s consensus building process was to develop standards embraced by a critical mass of telecommunications suppliers and carriers. That way, any wireless player that doesn’t get on board will find itself at the disadvantage of being an exception rather than the rule.

“Companies coming to [our] proceedings have a vested interest in the outcome, and sometimes that vested interest isn’t in the success of the process,” Ferdinands said. “From a political standpoint, doing work on smart cards in the PCS world, where the only current model is GSM, might be thought of as an implicit endorsement of GSM.”


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