Callcard Blog

A brief history of the chip based Smartcard

Chipped based phonecards were first introduced by France Telecom in the year 1983. Invented by French inventor Roland Moreno chipped based phonecards were revolutionary in terms of better security and durability compared with the previous magnetic and optical card types. Moreno had researched and developed the smartcard (chipcard) for use in banking and as a secure way to authorize transactions. It is important to note that chipped based smart cards were not confined to just phonecards; your bank card, mobile SIM card, Cable or Satellite TV viewing card and any form of card with a chip embedded are all based on the same technology. Moreno had established his own company Innovatron in order to market his ideas and intellectual property. The Innovatron flag logo is seen quite regularly on Irish Callcards, particularly with the very early cards. Take a look at some of your Callcards, you'll probably spot this flag somewhere on the back of one of them: innovatron logo


20 years on from the last Callcard Collectors Fair

It was 20 years ago this year, on May 26th 2001 Eircom was to host the very last Callcard Collectors Fair. Since the year 1996 Telcom eireann, later Eircom had hosted yearly Callcard fairs in aid of charity. The charity of choice over the 6 years running was the Irish Brain Research Foundation, and briefly the National Council for the Blind (1996 & 1997). The Collectors Fair was hosted at the Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge initially, later on moving to the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) venue in Dublin.

After payment of the £2 entrance fee (for adults, kids under 12 were only charged £1) entrants had access to dealers stalls where one could buy or swap Callcards. For every Callcard Fair, Telecom eireann then Eircom would have produced a special Limited Edition Callcard (in some cases 2 cards were produced) and the entrance ticket enabled the attendee the ability to purchase just one of these special cards (priced at £10) with the proceeds going to charity.

The format of the Callcard Fairs was mixed, in order to attract both the younger collectors but also to cater for the more serious collectors. The fair was so big in it's heyday that it even attracted international interest (source article).  By the mid 1990s certain Callcards were so valuable that Callcards were purchased by some as investment pieces.


Do Callcards still work?...

A question I am quite often asked, do Callcards still work? The answer may surprise you. Callcards lost popularity back in the late nineties due to the increase in affordable mobile phones. Gradually shops stopped stocking Callcards and Eircom (now Eir) started to decrease the number of public payphones.

By the end of 2009, Eircom have already removed half of all phoneboxes. The current payphone type Eir implemented back in the early ‘00s function as both a coin and card payphone. Even to this day the cardphone functionality is still active. This means that Callcards with remaining units can still be used today!

Just after the millennium Eircom produced a new variety of Callcards, rather than the Callcard containing a Unit for credit, a cash value was used instead. Prior to the euro changeover earlier Callcards displayed the price in Irish Punts (£) and can be seen on the early Simply Talk series.

This in itself brought some interesting changes. Rather than blocking earlier Callcards with Unit denominations eircom decided to convert the Unit values to cash ones. As a result of this changeover the Callcards value was changed as below:

  • 5 Units – N/A
  • 10 Units - €4.00
  • 20 Units - €7+€3 Free
  • 50 Units – €15 + €10 Free
  • 100 Units – N/A

The story of the Telecom eireann Callcard

Before Callcards became an iconic symbol of nineties Ireland, an advanced trial and rollout took place by Telecom eireann in the late eighties. This roll out saw trials conducted in cities Dublin, Galway and Limerick.

The cards tested during these trials relied on magnetic and optical strips which held the credit or “units”.

Introducing the chipped Callcard

After the short 2 year trial Telecom Eireann decided to test the relatively new chip based smartcard technology for their Callcards. These cards were durable, modern and most importantly more secure. In a bold move by Telecom Eireann Ireland became one of the first countries in the world to implement chipped phonecards. These cards were more expensive to produce than magnetic or optical cards.

Prior to the nationwide Cardphone rollout many cards were produced by different manufacturers to test that their cards would be compatible. These cards were usually marked “SAMPLE” or “TEST”.

Unlike private Callcards test cards were never available to the general public. They were produced in very limited quantities and provided to engineers in charge of maintaining and deploying the cardphones. As these test cards were never intended for public access they mostly contained very plain designs. Some also had larger unit values than available to the general public, including 120 and 150 units for example.

The first known test cards were produced by manufacturers Schlumberger and Gemplus. These were catalogued as Telecom Eireann Demo 1, Telecom Eireann Demo 2, and Telecom Eireann Demo 3 "Ireland's First Callcard" (pictured). These cards, particularly Demo 1 and 3 are extremely rare. Many test cards, particular the early ones were returned to the manufacturer after testing was conducted to be retested and then destroyed.


Telecom Eireann and Eircom phoneboxes in TV and film!

Throughout the years, many great Irish films and television series have been produced. From Father Ted to Intermission many of these television programmes and films featured Telecom Eireann or Eircom phones at some point. Have we missed any..? Do let us know either in the comments section below or email in to :) .

 Father Ted - Speed 3

Dating all the way back to March 1998 the Father Ted Episode Speed 3 features the villain towards the end using a Telecom Eireann phonebox. It is not obvious if a Callcard or coinphone is being used during this short clip!