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Smart-Card Groups Join Forces In Taiwan

The MultiMediaCard Association intends to join forces with a Taiwanese memory-card alliance.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — The MultiMediaCard Association intends to join forces with a Taiwanese memory card alliance, setting the stage for cooperation on a next-generation card specification incorporating blocks of Taiwanese IP that will help boost transfer speeds 50 fold.

Joining with the MMCA is a boost for the Taiwanese alliance, which has been promoting a spec known as Mu-Card since late last year. Without the MMCA, it may have been a hard slog trying to launch yet another memory card interface in the market. Currently, there are at least five, not counting derivatives.

Yet the partnership also adds some zing to the MMCA — the Mu-Card's 120-MByte/s bandwidth is 50 times faster than today's baseline MMC, about twice as fast as high-speed MMCs, and ten times faster than today's Secure Digital cards. It is also twice as fast as USB 2.0.

For mobile media users, that means the transfer of a 25-MByte audio book would seem blissfully instantaneous, compared to the relative eternity of a 10-second delay for today's mainstream MMCs.

Other perks include power consumption lower than USB 2.0, a hardwired passive adapter that would be cheaper than a card reader — at about 9 cents per piece — and a 2-terabyte memory capacity for its interface. There's also support for smart cards — or subscriber identity module cards — for easy use within mobile phone designs.

The MMCA and Mu-Card Alliance have been ironing out a working relationship since early this year. The agreement calls for the Mu-Card Alliance members to merge with the MMCA and form a technical subcommittee under the MMCA to create the next-generation I/O device interface based on the MMC specification. Liu Chih-yuan, of Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), which spearheaded Mu-Card, will lead the group and report to the MMCA Technical Committee.

Ultimately, the goal of the Taiwanese is to popularize royalty-free specs, such as MMCA and Mu-Card, at the expense of fee-based specs like Secure Digital. Taiwan is the second largest assembler of SD cards.

At its heart, the simplicity of the Mu-Card spec derives from the use of USB protocols for the digital portion. Its speed comes from a 16-bit bus — compared to 4- and 8-bit buses for next-geneneration SD and MMC cards. Moreover, Mu-Card members claim the power consumption is only one-third to one-fourth that of USB 2.0.

The MMCA has already defined its next memory card standard, known as MMC System Specification v4.1. It did not say when the Mu-Card spec would be integrated within the MMC format.

The Mu-Card Alliance has already done some legwork along the supply chain, working with chip set and device vendors to design-in the spec. It has also been promoting the spec in China and Japan.

Founding members of Taiwan's Open Mobile Internet Alliance, which developed the Mu-Card, are ITRI's Computer and Communications Research Laboratories, BenQ Corp., Carry Computer Eng. Co., Ltd., C-ONE Technology Corp. (Pretec), DBTEL Inc., Power Digital Card Co., Ltd. and RiCHIP Inc.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Nathan Eddy, Freelance Writer
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing