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NEC Corp has entered the smart card microcontroller market through a deal with Compagnie des Machines Bull SA. NEC says it will be supplying chips for Bull’s new Memphis (not to be confused with a mysterious operating system brewing in the state Washington) line of low-cost smart cards. The chips, which were jointly developed by the two companies, represent NEC’s first efforts in the area of smart cards. But the Japanese giant has lofty ambitions, insisting it is fully committed to becoming one of the top three suppliers of smart card microcontrollers by 2000. The Japanese firm hopes to expand the network of smart card producers using its chips, targeting monthly output of 7 million chips by 2000. It is setting up to make the chips at its plant in Kyushu. The world market for smart cards should more than double to 400 million cards in 1998, from just under 200 million in 1996, and surge to 1 billion in 2000, estimates a US high-tech research firm. Sales of chips for smart cards are projected to reach more than $500m by 2000. The announcement comes only a month after Bull denied rumors that it was selling its smart card business.

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