France Telecom is trialling an online micropayment system that offers an alternative to bank transfers and credit card shopping.
France Telecom R&D is trialling the anonymous payment system with 5000 customers who will use prepaid cards for secure shopping on the Internet.
The system, known as Ticket Surf, consists of a scratch card with a password for online transactions. To use the card people simply enter the password on a participating partner site and click. They can then select their purchase and pay immediately. The card password is checked on the Ticket Surf platform to approve the transaction and debit the corresponding amount. Once the credit has been exhausted the card is disposed of.
Volunteer customers have been issued with a EUR15 card that they can use via a France Telecom portal until November 30. The first Ticket Surf service available is sending SMS (Short Message Service) messages via the Web to cellphones.
France Telecom says other services will be soon available on partner sites offering video on demand, weather, music (MP3), movie excerpts, games, classified ads, downloads, horoscope, news flashes and press clippings.
Gilles Moro, project manager at France Telecom R&D, says: "A significant number of content providers are very interested in the concept and we're already looking at the development of combined prepaid Internet services and phone cards."
He says the technology is easy to implement on merchant sites and that cards will be sold in the same ubiquitous outlets that sell cigarettes and newspapers.
Pilot commercial service will kick off in January in three test markets in Africa and Europe. Full-scale launch in France of the cards in different denominations is expected to begin before summer 2003.