Indian E-passport Project On A Roll

In a move that could bring fresh business for smart card vendors, chip makers and automation information technology (IT) firms, the Indian government has kick-started the process of scouting for suppliers of electronic components for 20 million e-passports.

The Security Printing & Minting Corp. (SPMC) of India bid involves procurement of 20 million electronic contactless inlays, along with its operating software for the production of e-passports.

The inlay is a laminate consisting of a core containing the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip and antenna, with outer layers of sheet material. According to the tender document, the inlays have to be electronic contactless type according to SCOSTA-CL (for Smart Card Operating System for Transport Applications for Contactless) requirements.

Bartronics India, Germany-based Sagem Orga (through Smart Chip India) and Amsterdam-based Gemalto are expected to bid for the project. The Ministry of External Affairs is also expected to come out with a multi-million dollar tender for the RFID chip—which contains the biometric data of the passport holder— within the next month. Chipmakers NXP Semiconductors and Infineon are expected to bid for this project.

In fact, NXP has already made presentations to the government authorities. The company claimed that its chips are fully certified to work on the local SCOSTA standards. NXP has already deputed one architect-level person from India who is working to ensure that its chips are interoperable. NXP believes that the country could have around 200 million e-passports in the next three to five years.

New opportunities

According to experts, the IT infrastructure required for operating the e-passport system—which includes electronically linking various e-passport terminals—would open up another set of opportunities. Domestic IT firms such as Tata Consultancy Services, HCL and Wipro are all set to tap this opportunity.

At present, a passport contains facial imprint, but an e-passport will have all the personal details, including fingerprints, of the person carrying it. The pilot e-passport program was started on June 25 last year and the first 10,000 passports were issued to diplomats and senior Government officials.

The e-passport project is part of the Government’s mandate to extend the e-passport program beyond diplomats and Government officials to the “aam aadmi” (ordinary man) starting this September.

Uday Lal Pai, udaylalpai@gmail.com, is a freelance journalist based in India.

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