Magazine article American Banker

Motorola Unveils Customized Electric-Bill Payment with Chip Card

Magazine article American Banker

Motorola Unveils Customized Electric-Bill Payment with Chip Card

Article excerpt

Motorola Inc. has come out with a smart card system called PowerCom that lets consumers pay for their electricity on an as-needed basis.

It is one of a growing number of programs enabling consumers to buy as much electricity as they need or can afford, and even choose when to use more electricity according to a list of prices corresponding to different times of day.

Other prepaid systems use personal identification number pads or magnetic stripe cards. One advantage of smart cards, advocates of the technology said, is their ability to store meter information -- meaning the utility does not have to send a meter-reader to the customer's home.

Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola worked with Salt River Project, a power utility in Arizona, to develop PowerCom. Salt River has ordered 20,000 PowerCom units and will begin deploying them this year.

Prepaid electricity is a rarity in the United States, but industry observers say it will pick up speed when deregulation offers consumers more utility providers to choose from. Another utility system maker, Nashville-based CIC Systems, has been selling prepaid electricity meters for years and is introducing a version with a smart card in early 2000.

The smart card is "used to create a two-way communication path," said Bob Frith, marketing manager at Motorola's systems solutions group in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Motorola's system includes an in-home display unit with a smart card slot and a corresponding meter placed outside. Customers will be able to visit kiosks (supplied by Diebold Inc.) at utility customer service centers and other sites, including grocery stores and shopping centers, to load value on their cards. Once the card -- which has an 8K memory chip -- is inserted into the display unit, value is transferred to the meter and electricity begins running. …

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