A German-led consortium is developing standards that will lead to mobile phones carrying electronic cash and operating as wireless smartcard readers.
Founding members include Brokat, a company that develops software for Internet banking, German mobile phone operator Mannesmann, manufacturer Siemens and smartcard developers Schlumberger and Gemplus.
Called eSign, the consortium will work to develop standards which could result in e-commerce services such as digital identities and encryption that would sit above technologies like Wap (wireless application protocol) and the mobile phone's Sim card technology.
The developing standard will allow mobile phones to act as secure portable devices.
Brokat's managing director Roy Smith told Computer Weekly that the technology within mobile phones could be used to digitally sign e-commerce transactions. He also said the consortium is hoping to establish e-commerce application services such as credit card authorisation based on a public key infrastructure.
ESign, he explained, "would provide a standard through which PKI could be distributed over a wireless network".
For instance, the phone could hold a user's private information and credit card details on its Sim card. To make a credit card purchase over the Internet it would only be necessary for the user to provide the phone's number.
Using technologies such as SMS (short messaging service) or Wap, the e-commerce Web site could send a message to the mobile phone to validate the user and process the transaction.
In combination with the forthcoming Bluetooth wireless technology, in the future mobile phones could be used to store electronic cash. This could then be spent at shops equipped with a Bluetooth-enabled Epos system.
Smith pointed out that the cash on the phone could simply be topped up over the GSM network or via Bluetooth-enabled cash machines.
Since such machines would not need a keypad, display or be required to store cash, Smith believes they could be embedded anywhere - including traffic or street lights. Users would only need to be in the vicinity of the cash machine to top up their electronic cash.