What is a Smart Card Chip?

Mary Elizabeth

A smart card is a credit-card sized card that is able to receive and process data. It is also referred to as a “chip card” or an “ICC card” (Integrated Circuit Card). The smart card chip is a computer chip. Smart cards are used in a variety of industries, including banking, travel, security, and health care. A smart card chip contains a microprocessor, memory, or both embedded in it. It is read either by sliding it through a reader or via a radio frequency (RFID) connection between the card and a reader.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Smart cards are generally discussed in three main types, depending on the type of smart card chip they contain: those with a contact chip, those with a contactless chip, and those that combine the technology of both contact and contactless functions. Most common are contact cards, the smart cards that contain a chip in the form of a small square gold insert. When the card is placed into a CAD (Card Accepting Device), the CAD and the chip make contact, allowing information to be transferred. Straight memory cards are the ones with the most data storage, but they cannot identify themselves and don’t have a locking mechanism, while Intelligent Memory cards have a smart card chip that is capable of controlling access to the card’s memory, and stored-value memory cards are used for disposable or rechargeable amounts, and may be used for telephone cards. Unlike the other types of contact cards, CPU/MPU multifunction cards have a smart card chip that can process data.

A contactless card, the second type, has a smart card chip that is an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag: a combination microchip and antenna that allows the card to be tracked. The system’s “read range” is the distance at which the card can be from the reader and still be read. The proximity to the reader varies with card purpose. Contactless cards, like contact cards, have subcategories. Read-only cards are written by the manufacturer and used for applications like accessing facilities, while Write Once Read Many (WORM) cards are written by the customer. Read-write cards are used for travel fare cards, where the lowered stakes means that the lowered security of the card’s being writable is not a serious risk. Combination cards have two different kinds of chips and incorporate both contact and contactless technology into a single card.

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