If you have ever been a resident of Hong Kong, you'd know what an e-passport looks like! You would have even used it! For example, if you were crossing over into Shenzhen, China, from Lo Wu, which is on the borders of Luohu district within Hong Kong and the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, China, [having reached there via the KCR (Kowloon-Canton Railway)] -- you can easily use your Hong Kong e-passport to get past the immigration point and enter China!
It is really easy! Simply drop your e-passport into the e-passport reader slot and place your finger on the fingerprint reader for it to scan and read. Once your e-passport comes out, move over to the other side to another e-passport reader, repeat the same exercise, and you're done! All it takes is less than a minute!
All Indians could soon have e-passports!
Well, such an e-passport can become a reality in India soon! If you haven't heard it, Infineon Technologies recently supplied contactless security microcontrollers (MCUs) for India's electronic passport (e-passport) program! The Indian e-passport rollout started with Indian diplomats and officials being issued e-passports -- around 30,000 to be issued in phase one. It is likely that by September 2009, the e-passports will be extended to the general public.
The rollout has started with the issuance of electronic passports to Indian diplomats and officials. It is expected that in this first phase, up to 30,000 electronic passports shall be issued. By September 2009, the program is likely to be expanded to include passports used by the general public. Today, around 6 million passports are being annually issued in India. I believe, the government of India has invited a new tender for interested stakeholders to bid for 20 million e-passports.
So, being a Hong Kong e-passport holder, I was interested in knowing whether the Indian version is as smart as that particular one? By the way, Hong Kong's e-passport also doubles up as your Hong Kong ID (HKID) card. If you don't have one, you simply cannot do business in Hong Kong! Your HKID number is unique and remains unchanged!
Dr. Rajiv Jain, Vice President and Managing Director, Infineon Technologies India Pvt Ltd, said that both Hong Kong and India are using the same product family from Infineon. "The security levels of both e-passports are based on the Common Criteria EAL 5+, the highest possible security certification for MCUs. In addition, both comply to ICAO requirements, the international standard for e-passports."
Infineon’s SLE 66CLX800PE security MCU provides advanced performance and high execution speeds, and was specifically designed for use in electronic passports, identity cards, e-government cards and payment cards. Sounds very interesting!
Highlights of Infineon's security MCU
The security MCU features a crypto-coprocessor and can operate at very high transaction speeds of up to 848kbits/s even if the elevated encryption and decryption operations have to be calculated.
The SLE 66CLX800PE offers all contactless proximity interfaces on a single chip: the ISO/IEC 14443 type B interface and type A interface, and both used for communication between electronics passports and the respective readers; and the ISO/IEC 18092 passive mode interface, which is used in transport and banking applications. The SLE 66CLX800PE features 80 kilobytes (kb) of EEPROM, 240kb of ROM, and 6kb of RAM.
The SLE 66PE contactless controller family, which includes the SLE 66CLX800PE, is certified according to Common Criteria EAL 5+ high (BSI-PP-0002 protection profile) security certification. Infineon’s security in MCUs used in e-passports builds on the underlying hardware-based integral security, with data encryption, memory firewall system and other security mechanisms to safeguard the privacy of data.
The SLE 66PE product family comprises a whole product portfolio designed for use in basic-security to high-security smart card systems, with the EEPROM sizes ranging from 4kb to144kb, and covering different applications including government ID, transportation and payment.
Infineon's perception of Indian semiconductor industry
So much about the e-passport! I can't wait to get my hands on one! Since I was in a discussion with Infineon, it naturally turned toward the Indian semiconductor industry and what needs to be done!
Dr. Jain said: "The Indian semiconductor industry has seen its share of successes and misses. The in-depth technical talent required for design and development is omni-present (TI, Intel, Infineon, Wipro, etc., to name a few). For example, we are doing critical R&D in the areas of automotive electronics, broadband, mobile communications and secured ID solutions at Infineon India, and the fact that it is one of the largest centres in Infineon’s global R&D network, is a testimony to India’s importance as the destination for cutting edge research. This has also led to creation of home-grown design houses offering services to the larger companies.
"We are also seeing in some small, but growing numbers, products and ideas for local markets. As the local markets evolve, so will the ability of these companies to deliver innovation for these local markets, which can then be taken globally."
He added that an area of debate has been the need for semiconductor manufacturing in India. For example, having fabs, test and packaging plants, and EMS. "There have been government initiatives with a few successes. However, financial, tax-related and custom-related investment in these areas needs to come together and be centrally driven from a long-term perspective, as these institutions, which can provide a stable manufacturing base, need larger efforts to be successful."
Hopefully, we will finally get to see some action on all of these areas post the Indian general elections due shortly.
PS: Just to let all of my friends know, I am no longer associated with either CIOL or its semiconductors web site.