What are the uses of a smart card?

Smart Cards have many different uses, a few examples being:

  • For banking (credit card)
  • For public telephone operation (phone card)
  • For cell phone operation and purchasing of pre-paid air time (SIM card and Vodacom or MTN air time card)
  • For paying TV licenses (Super Card)
  • For shopping at chain stores (Clicks, Edgars, Woolworths, etc.)
  • For use at filling stations (Petrol Cards)

The types of transaction cards, which are available on the market today, are far too many to mention. Each card is designed for a specific purpose and therefor limited to its use, as it can only perform the particular function for which it is made for. No loyalty cards can be used for multi-functional purposes, and only bank cards will allow cash to be withdrawn from ATM’s and purchases to be made from shops which have speed point terminals which are compatible with that particular card. Other than for those specified uses, these transaction cards are pretty useless.
Smart cards however, can be used for all of the above, and many more than that!



Physical and Electrical Properties
The card body of a smart card inherits its fundamental properties from its predecessor, the familiar embossed card, which still dominates the market in the credit card sector. Technically speaking, such cards are simple plastic structures that are personalized by being embossed with a variety of user features, such as the name and number of the cardholder. Later versions of these cards were provided with a magnetic stripe to enable simple machine processing. When the idea of implanting a chip in the card first arose, this existing type of card was used as the basis and a microcontroller was embedded in the body of the card. Many standards relating to the card’s physical properties are thus not specific to smart cards, but apply equally well to magnetic-stripe and embossed cards.

If you hold a smart card in your hand, the first thing you notice is its format. After this, you might see that it has set of contacts, although a contactless smart card may not have any visible electrical interface. The next feature to catch your eye might be a magnetic stripe, embossing or a hologram. All these features and functional components form part of the physical characteristics of a smart card. Most of the physical characteristics are actually purely mechanical in nature, such as the format of the card and its resistance to bending or twisting. These characteristics are familiar to every user from personal experience. In practice, however, physical properties such as sensitivity to temperature or light and resistance to moisture are also important.

The interaction between the body of the card and the implanted chip must also be considered, since only the combination of the two components makes a functional card. For instance, a card body designed for use at high ambient temperatures is of little benefit if its embedded microcontroller does not share this property. These two components must individually and collectively meet all of the relevant requirements, since otherwise high failure rates can be expected in use.

Card formats
Small cards with the typical smart card dimensions of 85.6 mm by 54 mm have been in use for a very long time. Almost all smart cards are produced in this format, which is certainly the most familiar. It is designated ID-1, and its size is specified in the ISO 7810 standard. This standard originated in 1985 and thus has nothing to do with smart cards as we know them today, as can easily be seen from the abbreviation ‘ID’, which stands for ‘identification’. This standard simply describes an embossed plastic card with a magnetic stripe that is intended to be used for the identification of a person. When it was written, no one had thought of putting a chip into the card. The presence of a chip and location of its contacts on the card were only defined several years later in other standards.

With the variety of cards available today, which are used for all possible purposes and have a wide range of dimensions, it is often difficult to determine whether a particular card is actually an ID-1 smart card. In addition to the embedded chip, one of the best identifying features is the thickness of the card. If this measures 0.76 mm and the card contains a microcontroller, it can be considered to be a smart card in the sense of the ISO standard. The conventional ID-1 format has the advantage of being very easy to handle. The card’s format is specified such that it is not too large to be carried in a wallet, but not so small that it is easily lost. In addition, the card’s flexibility makes it more convenient than a rigid object. Nevertheless, this format does not always meet the demands of modern miniaturization. Some mobile telephones weigh only 200 g and are not much bigger than a packet of tissues. It thus became necessary to define a smaller format in addition to the ID-1 format, in order to address the needs of small terminal devices. The card used in such devices can be very small, since it is usually inserted into the device only once and remains there for good. The ID-000 format was defined for this purpose, and it bears the descriptive name ‘plug-in’. This format is presently only used with GSM mobile telephones, which have very little room for a card and do not require the card to be frequently exchanged.

However, the fact that cards in the ID-000 format are inconvenient to handle, both in production and by end users, led to the development of an additional format. This format is
designated ID-00, or ‘mini-card’. Its dimensions are approximately halfway between those of ID-1 and ID-000 cards. This type of card is more convenient to handle and cheaper to produce, for instance because it is easier to print. However, the ID-00 definition is fairly new, and this format has not yet become established either nationally or internationally. The formats are defined in the relevant standards in a way that simplifies measuring the card dimensions. For instance, the height and width of an ID-1 card must be such that it fits between two concentric rectangles as shown in Figure 3.1 (ignoring the rounded corners), which have the following dimensions:
–external rectangle: width: 85.72 mm (3.375 inches) height: 54.03 mm (2.127 inches)
–internal rectangle: width: 85.46 mm (3.365 inches) height: 53.92 mm (2.123 inches)
The thickness must be 0.76 mm (0.03 inch), with a tolerance of ±0.08 mm (±0.003 inch). The corner radii and the card’s thickness are defined conventionally. Based on these definitions, an ID-1 card’s dimensions can be represented as shown in Figure 3.2.

AT88SC153 Card,SLE5542 Card,SLE5528 Cards,ISO Contact Cards,

Figure 3.1 Definition of the dimensions of an ID-1 format card

ATMEL AT88SC153 Offset Printing Card

Figure 3.2 The ID-1 format. Thickness: 0.76 mm ± 0.08 mm; corner radius: 3.18 mm ± 0.30 mm. The dimensions shown indicate the size of the card excluding tolerances

The ID-000 format is also defined using two concentric rectangles. Since this format originated in Europe (based on theGSMmobile telephone system), the basic dimensions are metric. The bottom right-hand corner of a plug-in card is cut off at an angle of 45˚, as shown in Figure 3.3, in order to facilitate correct insertion of the card into the card reader. The dimensions of the two rectangles for the ID-000 format are:
–external rectangle: width: 25.10 mm height: 15.10 mm
–internal rectangle: width: 24.90 mm height: 14.90 mm
AT88SC153 Cards

Figure 3.3 The ID-000 format. Thickness: 0.76 mm ± 0.08 mm; corner radius: 1 mm ± 0.10 mm;corner: 3 mm ± 0.03 mm. The dimensions shown indicate the size of the card excluding tolerances

The ID-00 format is also based on metric measurements. Its maximum and minimum dimensions are defined by two concentric rectangles with the following dimensions:
–external rectangle: width: 66.10 mm height: 33.10 mm
–internal rectangle: width: 65.90 mm height: 32.90 mm

AT88SC153 Card,SLE5542 Card,SLE5528 Cards,ISO Contact Cards,

Figure 3.4 The ID-00 format. Thickness: 0.76 mm ± 0.08 mm; corner radius: 3.18 mm ± 0.30 mm. The dimensions shown indicate the size of the card excluding tolerances

The relative sizes of the ID-1, ID-00 and ID-000 formats are shown in Figure 3.5. Cards in the smaller formats can be produced from the larger versions by punching them from the
body of a larger-format card. This is especially important for card manufacturers, since it allows the production process to be optimized and made more economical using a uniform ID-1 format. For instance, card manufacturers commonly produce card blanks in only one format (preferably ID-1), embed modules in them and fully personalize them. Depending on the specific application of the cards so produced, such cards can be trimmed to the desired format in a subsequent production step.
Alternatively, the format may be modified later by the customer. This has become common practice with cards for mobile telephones. The customer receives an ID-1 card that is
prepunched such that it can be converted into an ID-000 card by breaking a small card free from the larger card body. In another technique, the ID-000 card is completely punched free from the ID-1 body and attached to the surrounding portion using single-sided tape on the side without contacts. The customer can thus ‘produce’ a card whose format fits his or her equipment, while the manufacturer only has to produce and supply one card format.

AT88SC153 Card,SLE5542 Card,SLE5528 Cards,ISO Contact Cards,

Figure 3.5 Relative sizes of the ID-1, ID-00 and ID-000 formats

AT88SC153 Card,SLE5542 Card,SLE5528 Cards,ISO Contact Cards,

Figure 3.6 Example of a mobile telephone card in ID-1 format, which the user can convert into an ID-000 card if necessary by pressing out the smaller-format card

However, the usual card format still has some disadvantages for some applications. In such situations, other form factors can be used, such as a USB plug with an integrated smart card microcontroller. The logical behavior of such smart card variants is generally fully equivalent to that of the usual forms.

What different cards are available?

Different types of cards being used today are contact, contactless and combination cards. Contact smart cards must be inserted into a smart card reader. These cards have a contact plate on the face which makes an electrical connector for reads and writes to and from the chip when inserted into the reader.
Contactless smart cards have an antenna coil, as well as a chip embedded within the card. The internal antenna allows for communication and power with a receiving antenna at the transaction point to transfer information. Close proximity is required for such transactions, which can decrease transaction time while increasing convenience. A combination card functions as both a contact and contactless smart card.