Bank transactions come to U.K. cell phones

By , IDG News Service |  Business

The cash machine is coming to the mobile phone in the U.K. with a service that will let subscribers check a bank account balance and buy mobile phone minutes anywhere their phones work.

Britain's LINK cash machine network is set to introduce some cash-machine functions on mobile phones through an application that will be available for download. The service, called MobileATM (automated teller machine), initially will provide account balances and soon after will let users add time to a prepaid phone account, according to a statement by Sun Microsystems Inc., a technology partner in the project. It should work on any mobile network that allows subscribers to download third-party applications, according to Sun.

At the 3GSM Worldwide Congress in Cannes on Monday, Sun will tout its participation in the MobileATM project, the latest service that uses Java software and SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards in mobile phones to certify that users are who they say they are. Sun, the creator of Java, is promoting that combination as a new identification system for secure transactions.

"Identity is a valuable asset that the carriers have that they are underutilizing," said Eric Chu, director of Sun's J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition) platform, in an interview last week.

The SIM card that comes in every GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phone has nearly unbreakable security, and combining that with Java software can form a trusted platform for customers to authenticate their identities before carrying out tasks such as cash-machine transactions, said David Rivas, chief technology officer for Sun's client systems group. The applications can run on a Java virtual machine on the phone, which is secured via a "sandbox" that keeps viruses and other problems out of the software, he said.

The technology offers a number of possibilities, Rivas said. For example, subscribers could start up their phones with a password and then use it, via RFID (radio frequency identification) or another technology, to pay subway fares wirelessly, Rivas said. Even more significant, for larger purchases the phone could act like a credit card, with a Java application popping up a screen for the subscriber to enter a password on the spot, and the phone communicating the authorization to a cash register, Rivas said.

The service was scheduled for a U.K. launch in mid-January and a global introduction later in the year. Sun was unable to confirm that the service was launched on schedule, but more information can be found at MobileATM's Web site. (http://www.mobileatm.co.uk)

Mobile operators including SK Telecom Co. Ltd. of South Korea, NTT DoCoMo Inc. of Japan and Globe Telecom Inc. of the Philippines already are using Java in personal financial and payment applications for subscribers, according to Sun.

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