NCR promises “Freedom” with PDA banking

NCR Corp. plans to build bank machines that will let users access their accounts and withdraw cash through wireless handsets or electronic organizers using infrared or Bluetooth technology.

The Dayton, Ohio-based vendor plans to run consumer trials later this year.

NCR officials demonstrated a prototype machine — dubbed “Freedom” — at NCR Canada Ltd.’s Toronto headquarters Thursday.

Unlike conventional bank machines, Freedom has no screen or keyboard – which makes it less expensive to maintain, said Tim Wiggins, NCR’s senior marketing manager for self-service strategic solutions. Users would have to access the automated teller machine (ATM) through their cellular phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs).

“I would be going up to the street corner, I’ve got my own PDA or mobile phone, I say, ‘I want some cash,’ I select my account, I enter a PIN,” Wiggins said. “I get the cash dispensed out of the ATM and I get the transaction downloaded to my mobile phone or personal device.”

NCR plans to make both the bank machines themselves and the software that users would need on their devices in order to access the machines.

No Canadian banking customers or wireless carrier partners have been announced.

Banks could use the software to let their customers check balances, access cash and store electronic receipts as part of their banking package, according to NCR.

It will take several years before this sort of device becomes mainstream, said Warren Chaisatien, personal computing and Internet infrastructure analyst for IDC Canada Ltd. Vendors have to agree on which wireless standard will dominate the market, the technology puts another devices between the user and the bank machine and consumers will be concerned about security, Chaisatien added.

But a major advantage to the device is privacy, Wiggins said.

Users who want to get cash from a machine could enter the amount on their mobile device from a different location, and then enter their PIN when they approach the bank machines. Information would be transmitted using infrared or Bluetooth, a wireless data transfer standard originally developed by Swedish manufacturer Telfonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson in 1994.

Bluetooth has been touted as a technology with a variety of uses, such as connecting PCs to peripherals, cellular phones and PDAs.

“Bluetooth is in its infancy,” Wiggins said but added, “We’re going to see a lot of Bluetooth devices at the end of the year.”

The technology is designed to transfer data at rates of 1 Mbps at distances of up to 10 metres. Vendors supporting the technology include Ericsson, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, 3Com, Microsoft, Toshiba, Intel and IBM.

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