What is a smart card?

A smart card is a physical thẻ that has an embedded integrated cpu that acts as a security token. Smart cards are typically the same form size as a driver"s license or credit card & can be made out of metal or plastic. They connect to a reader either by direct physical liên hệ -- also known as chip và dip -- or through a short-range wireless connectivity standard such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near-field communication.

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The cpu on a smart thẻ can be either a microcontroller or an embedded memory chip. Smart cards are designed khổng lồ be tamper-resistant & use encryption khổng lồ provide protection for in-memory information. Cards with microcontroller chips can perform on-card processing functions và manipulate information in the chip"s memory.

Smart cards are used for a variety of applications but are most commonly used as credit cards và other payment cards. The payment card industry"s tư vấn of smart cards for the Europay, Mastercard và Visa (EMV) card standard has driven the distribution of smart cards. Smart cards capable of short-range wireless connectivity can be used for contactless payment systems. They can also be used as tokens for multifactor authentication (MFA).

International standards and specifications cover smart card technology. Some of those standards & specs are industry-specific applications. In the United States, smart card technology conforms khổng lồ international standards -- International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission 7816 and ISO/IEC 14443 -- backed by the Secure technology Alliance.

The first mass use of smart cards was Télécarte, a telephone thẻ for payment in French pay phones, launched in 1983. Smart cards are now ubiquitous and have largely replaced magnetic stripe -- also known as mag stripe -- thẻ technology, which only has a capacity of 300 bytes of nonrewriteable memory & no processing capability.

How smart cards work

Smart card microprocessors or memory chips exchange data with card readers and other systems over a serial interface. The smart thẻ itself is powered by an external source, usually the smart thẻ reader.

Smart cards communicate with readers via direct physical tương tác or using RFID or another short-range wireless connectivity standard. The chip or processor on the thẻ contains data that the card reader accesses. The processor on the card contains a basic operating system (OS) that lets the card hold, transmit & protect the data.

The thẻ reader passes data from the smart thẻ to its intended destination, usually a payment or authentication system, over a network connection.

Uses of smart cards

Smart cards are generally used in applications that must deliver fast, secure transactions. They can protect personal information in numerous situations, including the following:

credit cards; other types of payment cards; corporate and government identification cards; transit fare payment cards; and e-documents, such as electronic passports và visas.

Smart cards, such as debit cards, are often used with a personal identification number (PIN). Organizations also use them for security purposes, as MFA tokens & for authenticating single sign-on (SSO) users and enabling passwordless authentication.

Types of smart cards

Smart cards are categorized based on criteria such as how the thẻ reads & writes data, the type of chip used and its capabilities. They include the following types:

Contact smart cards are the most common type of smart card. They are inserted into a smart card reader that has a direct connection to lớn a conductive tương tác plate on the surface of the card. Commands, data and card status are transmitted over these physical liên hệ points. Dual-interface cards are equipped with both contactless and contact interfaces. This type of card enables secure access lớn the smart card"s chip with either the contactless or tương tác smart card interfaces. Microprocessor smart cards have a microprocessor embedded onto the chip, in addition to memory blocks. A microprocessor thẻ may also incorporate specific sections of files where each file is associated with a specific function. The data in the files & the memory allocation are managed with a smart card OS. This type of thẻ can be used for more than one function và usually enables adding, deleting và otherwise manipulating data in memory.

Smart cards can also be categorized by their application, such as credit card, debit card, entitlement or other payment card, authentication token & so on.

Advantages of smart cards

Smart cards offer several advantages, such as these:

Information persistence. Once information is stored on a smart card, it can"t be easily deleted, erased or altered. That is why smart cards are good for storing valuable data that should not be reproduced. However, applications & data on a thẻ can be updated through secure channels, so issuers bởi not have to issue new cards when an update is needed. Multiple uses. Multiservice smart thẻ systems let users access more than one service with one smart card.
Smart credit cards became common as banks embraced the EMV standard.

Disadvantages of smart cards

While smart cards have many advantages, there also drawbacks, including the following:

Cost. The cards and the smart thẻ readers can be expensive.

Examples of smart cards

Examples of smart card applications include the following:

Payment cards, including debit và credit cards issued by commercial credit card companies and banks, are used for financial transactions. Electronic benefits transfer cards are used for distribution of government benefits, such as the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Transit cards let local & regional transit systems process payments, as well as give riders points on their purchases. Access control cards enable schools, companies and government entities to lớn control access to lớn physical locations. Smart health cards help medical facilities securely store patient medical records.

Future of smart thẻ technology và applications

Smart cards are ubiquitous in the payment card industry, and they are widely used for business applications. They are likely to become a common alternative to passwords for authentication. It is also likely that the standard, wallet-sized smart thẻ will be replaced with a smaller alternative.

As the financial industry changes, so will smart card uses & applications. As blockchain technology gains traction, smart cards are beginning lớn be used as wallets & payment cards for cryptocurrencies.

Security is a key benefit of smart cards. The technology makes it difficult khổng lồ take personal credentials directly from the physical card. Unfortunately, cybercriminals have myriad ways of attaining this information. Learn how cybercriminals steal credit thẻ information in the age of smart cards.

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Ever thought about how that tiny piece of plastic in your wallet or phone can unlock a world of finances, identity, và communication? 

Join us as we dive into the captivating story of smart cards & discover how they"ve seamlessly woven into the fabric of our everyday lives.

In this dossier, you"ll discover critical facts about smart cards:

What is a smart card?
Smart card markets, size, & value
A short history of smart cards
What are the features & benefits of smart cards?
Smart thẻ use cases: payment, IDs, mobile telephony, health...The crucial role of standards
What is a multiple application card?
What is the cost of a smart card?

What is a smart card?

Let"s start with a definition: a smart thẻ is a small portable computer, usually the kích cỡ of a credit card, without a display & a keyboard.

It integrates a microprocessor, some memory, và some apps. 

The circular metal contact is vital khổng lồ connect to the cpu below và activate the card electrically.

It"s used with a tương tác or contactless card reader (POS for payments, at the ATM, or even on your mobile phone).


The card reader (or mobile phone) brings the 3V or 1.8 voltage to lớn activate the chip.

Smart cards offer enhanced security và convenience, making them ideal for various applications, including secure transactions, access control, và identification purposes.

30 lớn 50B smart cards in circulation today

In the size of credit cardsSIM cards, smart cards are the most common khung of IT processing power nguồn on the planet. 

It is estimated that between 30 to lớn 50B smart cards are in circulation today.

The smart thẻ has a microprocessor or memory cpu with the processing power lớn serve many different applications when coupled with a smart card reader.

In the last three decades, these tools, more than any other technology, have quietly taken us all into a virtual world.

Smart credit cards mediate daily transactions worth trillions of dollars.SIM cards facilitate billions of conversations that connect our social and economic worlds.As an access-control device, smart cards (company badges, university IDs) make personal & business data available only lớn the appropriate users.As a National e
ID card
, smart health card, residence permit, or electronic passport, smart thẻ technology offers more robust identification and authentication tools for both authorities" & citizens" benefits.

Over 10B smart cards shipped in 2022

According to the 11 February 2023 Eurosmart forecasts, smart thẻ markets will probably exceed 10 billion units in 2022. 

The overall market was stable in 2022 and reflected a mature market.

A flattish but stable market is expected for 2023 with a +0,2% growth.

2022 market share 

Telecom: Telecom (SIM cards) accounts for 43% of the market. Mobile Device Manufacturers reach 5.0%Financial Services (payments and banking cards) for 44.6%Government & Healthcare (e
IDS & e-passports) for 5.3%Transport: 2.2%

Significant trends in 2022 (updated)

Telecom: Eurosmart predicts 4.5 billion units of r
SIM & e
SIM shipped, with e
SIM showing double-digit growth. The telecom segment may decline slightly due khổng lồ a constrained environment & consumer uncertainty.Mobile device manufacturers: A 6% growth is expected, reaching 520 million units, driven by contactless secure element payment features.Financial services: A slight decline of 0.6% is foreseen due to a constrained environment. However, contactless adoption continues lớn grow, with 81% of global shipments estimated lớn be contactless cards in 2022.Government và healthcare: The market will grow in 2022, reaching 550 million units, driven by contactless features in identity documents and health cards.Transport: An increase in demand in 2022 is confirmed, with 225 million units expected to lớn be reached.Sustainability: The take-off of sustainable cards in 2022 is a significant driver, with an estimated 350 million payment cards and SIM cards using sustainable materials.

2023 forecasts by markets

Telecom: A flattish but stable market with a 0.2% growth is expected.Mobile device manufacturers: A growth of 3.8% is predicted, with 540 million units shipped.Financial services: A 3.7% growth is expected, reaching 3.35 billion units, driven by the continued increase in contactless adoption.Government and healthcare: Market volumes are expected to reach 575 billion units shipped, representing a 4.5% Yo
Y growth, thanks lớn accelerated digitalization và public policies.Transport: An 11% growth in demand is expected, driven by factors like fuel prices, urbanization, và sustainability concerns.Sustainability: Further progression of sustainable payment cards & SIM cards is expected during 2023.


A $17B market in 2026

According to Markets và Markets" recent research report, the smart thẻ market value is expected khổng lồ reach $16.9 billion by 2026.

Currently, smart cards & card readers tài khoản for more than 75% of the market.

The related market for software comprises management system software và databases. In addition, consulting, support, và maintenance services are also crucial.

The Asia Pacific is forecast to lớn take the largest giới thiệu of the market, as reported by the same study.

Gemalto (now part of THALES), Giesecke và Devrient, and IDEMIA (formerly Oberthur Technologies and Morpho) are prominent players in these markets.Major smart card microprocessor vendors are Infineon Technologies, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung, & STMicroelectronics.

The Mordor Intelligence market study, excluding readers and services, sizes the smart thẻ market at USD 8.14B in 2019 và 11.50B by 2025.

What is the history of smart cards?

Roland Moreno patented the memory card in 1974.

By 1977, three commercial manufacturers, Bull CP8, SGS Thomson, & Schlumberger, started developing smart thẻ products. 

In March 1979, Michel Hugon from Bull CP8 was the first lớn design and develop a microprocessor-based card combining a processor and local memory. He invented the computerized smart card.

1979: early developments in the banking sector1999: first smart cards for transport2003: Micro-SIM launched2003: Chip and PIN cards began to be issued in the UK.2005: first ICAO-compliant electronic passport (Norway passport)2012: Nano-SIM introduced2018: first biometric contactless payment card, e
SIM, launched (thickness is



About smart cards and Green I.T. Technologies

Smart card technology is an ideal Green I.T. Tool. 

It is a familiar portable object with a long life cycle (3 to 10 years) & a light carbon footprint.

A realistic credit card carbon footprint estimation is about 150 grams of CO2eq.(equivalent to less than 1 mile done by oto per thẻ manufactured).

There"s more.

It has a low electric consumption (only seconds và when in use) & can be available en masse at a very reasonable cost per unit.

At Thales, we encourage using organic or non-toxic alternative materials such as polylactic acid and recycled PVC for eco-friendly banking cards và polycarbonate for ID or health cards.

We also promote innovative climate-conscious programs such as the remarkable one from Doconomy and the fight against marine plastic pollution.

Visit our page on Parley Ocean Plastic and American Express.


Smart thẻ dimensions and major standards

The ISO/IEC 7810 ID-1 standard defines, in particular, the usual kích cỡ of an ID card.

The ID-1 kích thước is 85.60 × 53.98 mm (3 3⁄8 in. × 2 1⁄8 in.) & rounded corners with a 2.88–3.48 milimet radius.

This format is used for PET, PVC, eco-friendly PLA, polycarbonate, or total metal cards.

Many countries use it for IDs, driver"s licenses, và health cards.Credit thẻ dimensions (with or without a chip) are the same, with a thickness of 0,03 inches or 0,76 mm.

ISO/IEC 7816 is an international standard for electronic identification cards with contacts, especially smart cards, managed jointly by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) & the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

ISO/IEC 14443 defines the standard for contactless cards.


What are the features of a smart card?

Smart cards provide ways to securely identify and authenticate the holder & third parties who want access to the card. For example, a cardholder can use a pin code or biometric data for authentication.

They also provide a way khổng lồ securely store data on the card & protect communications with encryption.

To know more about encryption, visit our dossier on the history of cryptography.

Smart cards provide a portable, easy-to-use size factor.




Memory Capacities

- EEPROM: up to lớn 128 KB (non-volatile)


- Flash memory: up khổng lồ a few MB (non-volatile)


- RAM: up to 256 KB (volatile)


- 8-bit, 16-bit, or 32-bit microprocessors


- Common manufacturers: Infineon Technologies, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung, STMicroelectronics

Operating Systems

- Java Card, MULTOS, proprietary OSs

Communication Interfaces

- Contact: ISO/IEC 7816 standard


- Contactless: ISO/IEC 14443 or ISO/IEC 15693 standards


- Dual-interface: Both liên hệ and contactless interfaces

Data Encryption

- AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)


- DES (Data Encryption Standard) and Triple DES (3DES)


- RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman)


- ECC (Elliptic Curve Cryptography)

Digital Signatures



- DSA (Digital Signature Algorithm)


- ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm)

Cryptographic Protocols

- TLS (Transport Layer Security)


- SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)


Technical features of a smart card: overview

What are the benefits of a smart card?

Smart cards contain unique features that benefit both consumers & issuing organizations.

Smart cards provide:

Security (the physical layout of the chip is designed lớn be tamper-resistant, và a large portion of the operating-system code is dedicated lớn self-protection.)Confidentiality (the card và its data are with you, và YOU decide what to bởi with them.)Portability (you carry it in your wallet or phone.)Convenience (a consequence of all the above)

Smart cards offer more security & confidentiality than other financial information or transaction storage vehicles, making them a perfect solution for e-commerce transactions.

As they include a tamper-resistant microprocessor, they have substantial processing power to protect the information và encrypt và execute instructions from specific programs. Here"s where smart cards have a massive advantage over magstripe cards.

Can you imagine a portable vault? 

You have it.

A smart card is a safe place khổng lồ store valuable information such as private keys, account numbers, passwords, or personal information.

It"s also a secure place khổng lồ perform processes that one doesn"t want to lớn be exposed to the world, for example, performing a public key or private key encryption. 

The benefit of the smart card is that you can verify the pin or fingerprint securely offline.


Different types of smart cards, from left khổng lồ right:

strong identification with your national ID card.

What are the types of smart cards?

To begin with, magnetic stripe cards are definitively not smart cards.

Memory vs microprocessor

Smart cards come in two varieties: memory và microprocessor.

Memory cards store data and can be viewed as small USB memory sticks with optional security. On the other hand, a microprocessor card can add, delete, & manipulate information in its memory on the card.

Like a miniature computer, a microprocessor thẻ has an input/output port operating system và a hard disk with built-in security features like encryptions.

Contact vs contactless

Smart cards have two different types of interfaces: liên hệ and contactless. 

Contact smart cards are inserted into a smart thẻ reader, making physical liên hệ with the reader.

However, contactless smart cards have an embedded antenna inside the card, enabling communication with the reader without physical contact. You tap and pay.

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Contactless is easy & convenient. It"s a significant trend everywhere now due to lớn the recent pandemic.