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France Telecom Launches Phone-Based E-Commerce

France Telecom has introduced what it claims is the first e-commerce service for cell phones.

The company has launched trials of its "Iti Achat" service, which enables GSM using the Motorola StarTAC-D handset to make purchases from their mobile phones via the Internet. Security is provided by a smart bank card reader integrated in the handset.

So far, the service has two partner banks -- Credit Commercial de France and Credit Mutuel -- and five e-commerce vendors. Customers taking part in the trial can purchase CDs, books, videos, concert and theater tickets, flowers, wines and electronic gear.

To use the service, Itineris customers contact the merchant by phone, Minitel or Internet and place the order. The merchant sends back a GSM short message, which is displayed on the phone's screen, with the price. The customer inserts the smart card into the handset, enters a password and completes the transaction.

France Telecom says the service should be ready for full-scale launch in early 2000 following a second trial phase that will begin in September. At that time, more banking partners and merchants are expected to join the service.