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History of Optical-Cards from the Beginning untill Today PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 March 2008 14:37



1. Acknowledgements :

I have been working on this catalogue for over 10 years and I would like to thank all collectors who have contributed to the compiling of this historical record, especially Eric Schuenemann (Australia) who shared this project from the very beginning and also Stuart Christie (Scotland), Armando Dell'Utri (Italy), Daniel Huber (Switzerland) who are well-known specialists for Landis & Gyr optical-cards and related products. Special thoughts to our friend Rolf Maul (Germany) who left us.

Many who worked in the Landis & Gyr optical Central-Laboratory of Zug, in the Cards' Production of Zug and in the Sodeco Payphone Division of Geneva have been very helpful and made contributions for the construction of this website. Among these, I will particularly congratulate from Switzerland Raymond Lacoste, Robert Mettler, Peter Fehr, Rolf Sonderer, Peter Gehr, Raimund Köcher, Werner Scherer, Fabrizio Colonnelli, Heinz Lienhard, René Hauser, Philippe Jard, John Askins, Philippe Wiblé, Michel Cattin, Jean-Louis Chachuat, Ezio Dorigo, Bernard Hornung, Jean-Daniel Nicoud, Gottlieb Dändliker, Ernst Keim, François Mermod, Francis Poinard, Karl Jauch, Jean-Frédéric Moser, Joseph Benchanan, Alex Nyfeler, Thomas Hürlimann, Gilbert Pollier, Christian Schöpfer, Jacques Serres and all other friends who helped and shared the Online-Museum project for Optical Systems.


2. Zug Laboratories :

During the 1960’s, the Landis and Gyr company prospered financially, in large part due to the profitability of its meter production. With the idea of developing new products in the areas of new technologies, L&G engaged the services of Dr. Jean-Frédéric Moser around 1971 who was asked to research and present three areas of new technologies for possible further research. The idea was to set up a pure research laboratory to develop in Zug for one of these embryonic technologies.

Out of the three presentations (which included super-conductivity) the board selected coherent optics as the technology to be developed.

Dr. Jean-Frédéric Moser became team manager of the group that designed and set up the optical laboratory. This group included few engineers and Dr. David-L. Greenaway who joined Landis & Gyr Central Laboratory in April 1974 after over 10 years optical research in Laboratories RCA Ltd Zürich. Three “laser tables” were set up. These were large, highly polished granite slabs approximately 1.2 by 2.5 meters, set in large boxes of quartz sand, and isolated from ground and building vibration by rubber feet. Each slab was perforated by a grid of threaded holes, which were used to mount apparatus. Four rooms were serviced by two lasers which could be switched each from one room to the other as required.

In the early years of experimentation and research, other departments of L&G could approach the laboratories, with ideas for products to develop. The team at the Zug would then investigate the possible applications of coherent optics, to meet these product requirements. More about Central-Laboratory !


3. Geneva payphones and Laboratories :

In Geneva, L&G also had laboratories that were investigating and developing technologies and products.

It was in mid January 1973, that Mr. Joseph Benchanan, a marketing director for L&G based in Geneva, was in Kibbutz Geva in Israel. Mr. Joseph Benchanan observed people using plastic magstripe cards to make telephone calls on the public telephones, in a short lived field trial. Thought the trial did not last long, the idea of using cards for public telephone use, traveled in concrete form back to L&G Geneva. So it was, later in 1973, that the need for an encoded phonecard, with erasable units, was presented to the Zug laboratories by Philippe Wiblé from Geneva Payphones Division.

Around this time a totally different reader was developed by the laboratories in Geneva, based on an opto-electronic principle. Holes were punched in the card, and then covered with a material opaque to visible light, but allowing infra-red to pass through. This material was a plastic invented by Prof. Jean-Daniel Nicoud, and the card was called SK12, from the reader used to read the card. The SK12 was used in hospital trial, and issued to patients for telephone call usage. Each card, when used would log the calls to the user it was issued to. The SK12 readers, were installed in PTT Zurich for entry access and telephone access, and were used there for some years possibly. At least one other company (BOMICS) used the SK12 cards. See the feature about SK12 cards.


4. Early Field-Trials & Development of Phonecard idea :

So it transpired that, still early in 1973, the concept of optical reading, and ineradicable erasing on a card was clearly defined. Dr. David-L. Greenaway was instrumental in the invention of the holographic matrix during 1974, and one of the laboratories subsequently was devoted to the production of these new matrices. A creative engineer, Mr. Alex Nyfeler, was employed by L&G to make the actual reader, and did much of this work in his own home, and built the first actual holographic reader. It had only one position on the head for the inward light source, and over 20 mapped positions at various precise angles to receive the reflected and diffracted light. An electrical engineer Mr. Fabrizio Colonnelli was primarily involved in designing and building the control circuits on this reader.



Even while this development was happening in Zug, the Geneva laboratories made their own investigations of the Phonecard product. The only magstripe reader small enough to fit into the L&G coin operated telephones, was a Hewlett Packard reader. These were purchased, and a few telephones modified to incorporate them. Still early in 1973, these magnetic cardphones were used to demonstrate the idea of card prepayment for telephone calls to the director of the RTT in Belgium. Belgium had a particular need for an alternative to coins for public phone long distance calls, since the largest coin denomination 10 francs, was equal to only one call unit. Phonecards with many units would fill that need. A similar problem affected SIP in Italy.

Mr. Joseph Benchanan also set up a couple telephones outside the board rooms of the IUT (International Union of Telecoms) also known as UIT, in Geneva. Any of the Telecom directors who were passing by were invited to try the payphones, with a magnetic card. Mr. Joseph Benchanan relates that Mr Gérard Théry, managing director of French PTT (from 1974 to 1981), stated to his colleagues after seeing the use of the phonecard : <This is what I want !>.

The first magnetic cards used were plain white cards, and possibly a card used with the L&G logo, as is shown here. Here we can also show later versions of these UIT magnetic trials. In fact there are four cards which were produced later to target some of the prospective countries viewed by L&G as intended customers for this product (Show Suisse, Formosa “Taiwan”, Andorra, and Monaco, and Phonocard Sodeco magnetic). The interesting difference in these cards is that, with the exception of the Suisse card, the names of the other countries were overprinted. It seems these are the only ones produced in this set, and it seems these may date later than the Early Optical trials (1978-80), because the other early countries are already established as customers of L&G.

It was also later in 1974 that the concept of the phonecard was presented in principal to British Telecom.

It was in august 1976 that the optical phonocard product was finally realized, with the production of the first functional optically read phonecard. An erasing head was used to thermally destroy the units on the optical stripe. Further experiments to refine the erasing function continued through 1976, as can be seen through the reverse of this phonocard prototype numbered 002. The different sizes of the erasing heads can be seen on following scans :




Already by 1975 field trials were being conducted with the HP magnetic card phones at the Geneva university dormitories. The easily copied magnetic coding was soon duplicated by some resourceful students. They were caught, and were subsequently charged with fraud. The magnetic readers were replaced by the new optical phonocard telephones, using a plain green phonocard, inserted lengthways.

The readers were called SK15, and these trial cards have been found with control numbers between 004, and 015. The card numbering thus established the early format of 3 digit control codes, and the Geneva trial cards are known with controls 001, 002 (clear reverse), 003 (clear reverse), 004, 005 (clear reverse) 006, 009, 010, 011 and 015. It is probable, since the trial was for a longer period, that controls 012, 013 and 014 may also be university trial cards.

The Geneva trial seems to have run for some time, each control representing a new batch of cards supplied. This first optical trial began late 1976. It seems that, at least by 1977 the trial was concluded, and by 1979 the colour green was assigned to Spain. The Geneva cards used were called Aluminum University trials, because at this stage the matrix was embossed onto a thin aluminum substrate. The cards were still basically plastic, and some were clear plastic, showing the matrix clearly. All cards for the university trial were colored dark green, because L&G used specific colors for different countries in the early years.

The first official phonocard demo cards for use by a telco outside Switzerland are the Italian SIP cards green and red with controls 007, and 008. They date from around the same time as the first magnetic cards, end  1976.

By 1976, already at least 2 prototype cards had been produced for Belgium, as well as internal trial for the D1, and D2. Upon approval of the PTT, in 1977, the first trials began. At first 4 telephones were installed in the head office of the RTT, and the cards were in 25, and 100 unit values. The use of these card operated telephones doubled in comparison to the previous coin only operated phones. To encourage the use of the high value cards, it was decided to change the values of the cards to 20 units, and 105 units, the extra 5 units at no charge. In view of the success of the preliminary trials, 20 more telephones were installed in the streets of Brussels, near the Kiosks. These trial cards are identified by the letter “A” circled on the card. Subsequently, a national rollout was initiated, using cards now identified with “B” to distinguish from the trial cards.

Optical cards were also being used on telephones set up in the L&G Sodeco Saia offices in Geneva from around 1977. These cards were very probably the same ones used in Geneva University and simple green sodeco cards with 1, 5 or 8 digit numbers.

In the late 1970’s L&G continued to use the magnetic readers to demonstrate the use of a card to pay for telephone calls. Some of these trials were conducted to determine the acceptance of card payment by the public in various places. Some of these magnetic trials can be confirmed here. Around 1977 – 1978, 13 of these magnetic card phones were set up in the university of Paris, and the Railway station of Montparnasse. Perhaps, better known, is the trial of magnetic cards at the hotel Frantel Windsor. Magnetic cards were also produced for the Telephone company of Spain, and trialed briefly in 1978, before the introduction of Optical trials.

Landis & Gyr magnetic trial for Spain (Telefonica Building in Madrid) :

Magstripe of Landis & Gyr for Telefonica in Spain


Landis & Gyr magnetic trial for France (Hotel Frantel Windsor in Paris) :

Frantel Windsor


By 1979, there were a number of active development programs in place for a number of countries. A number of early demonstration cards are known for these early entries into phonocard trials. The general order is: Austria, France, Great Britain, Germany, and later, Sweden, PTT Switzerland, Finland, Portugal, Denmark, Tunisia, and Taiwan.

Understanding the early development of the L&G optical laser technology applications is based on a few basic themes.

  • The SK, and BSK reader development
  • The colour coding used for separate country applications in the first 8-10 years of development and issue of telephone cards.
  • Control number, and serial number systems used by L&G for security, and accountability.
  • System of structure combinations in the readable laser strip.

5. Reader types & model numbers :

The Reader models of the magnetic, opto-electronic, and laser optical types were assigned an SK number. The numbers for the magnetic readers are not known. The opto-electronic reader was designated SK12 and the earliest commercial laser reader for the phonocard is the SK15. The SK15 employed a lengthways insertion method, and was soon replaced by the sideways insertion readers SK20. Readers to follow were called SK20, SK30, and then BSK31, BSK32, BSK36, and BSK50. Other readers exist, but these are the well known ones. The BSK50 reader was designed to receive the card entirely into the reader, and could read both stripes on the card without turning the card. Another reader was designed for single call tokens, and will be described later, as will the ID2000 access control card system.

Another early application, developed about one year after the Phonocard, called ID2000, was developed as an authorizing access system, with forgery proof access cards, using the new holographic coding technology. Another special feature of this system is the large number of processing functions : Company code, territory range, time range, validity, identification number, issue number, and pin code. The cards are made of 2 parts: the holographic banded component, and the cover facilitating the photo, and other company and card information. The ID2000 readers have no moving parts, and the card is swiped through the reader like a credit card. The system, after checking all parameters opens the door or gate for a specified period, also recording the duration of opening. This system came to be used by some customers of L&G from about 1976.



6. Colour coding used for separate country application :

In the early years you could tell which country where a card was used, or intended for use, by the colour of the card. This was to serve a number of purposes including easy identification. As we have stated, the dark green cards were for use in the Geneva university trials. Vivid blue, and dark blue were for France initially, and was the colour used for French L&G cards up to 1984 approximately, but as the Finland trials (using the same blue) were successful, France was changed to red, until the use of L&G was discontinued, Deep orange was used exclusively for Belgium from 1975 up to the early 1990’s. Bright red was used for Swiss cards at first, and yellow was used in the Swiss Bundeshaus for a short time, but also for Austria. As the use of phonecards in Austria went beyond the trial stage, the use of yellow was discontinued in the Swiss Bundeshaus. Some short lived trials used the light green (Saudi, Isle of Mann, early Thailand and Cyprus among them)

Here we can show a group of laboratory trial cards showing the different colour coding. These are intended for the early countries assigned to each colour. The yellow, red, light and dark blue and brown, all have the code 0 051, and have clear backside. The green of course is for the Geneva trials, and has the regular coding, and the orange Belgium prototype is known with serial numbers 0 121, and 0 122. This is the real first Belgium card.

The black card has control 021 and brown cards have 0 331 and 023.

If anyone knows the intended use for Black & Brown cards, please let the writers know. Later on, different colours were used for different denomination cards, and example being the green issue of the 50 units card for Austria.


7. Control numbers & serial number systems :


First of all, we must explain the difference between a CONTROL number or code, and a SERIAL number. This must be fully understood before comprehension of L&G numbers can be achieved.

A control number or code, describes a single number given to a batch of cards, to keep track of batches. All the cards issued in a batch will have the same code number, and usually will be of the same design, though there are a few exceptions, as we will now explain.

One example of this exception to the rule is the T1, and T2 of Belgium. These 2 cards are the same as the D1, and D2, but were an earlier batch of internal trials for the PTT. Both cards have the code 051, but were not alone in the batch. Both a yellow SODECO, and dark red SODECO card are known with the same code 051.

Another example is the SIP trials for Italy, there were 2 cards produced, red, and green, and both cards are known with both 007, and 008 controls. So in fact there are 4 cards in the SIP trial, 2 cards with 2 different batch controls.

These types of 3 digit control codes were used in the early years to represent a batch of 1000 cards or less. The number of cards in a batch could be 10, 100 or up to 1000 cards. The first cards to be assigned batch numbers were the phonocard 100 “Un Produit” green cards, used for system testing for the Geneva university trials. These cards were used in the setting up of the phones at the university, and are known with 13 different batches 001 to 006 and 009 to 015.

A similar card exists in Blue, and was probably intended for a French trial, or demonstration. It has no number, but is encoded.

3 digit card batches are known from 001 up to 132.

A second series of batches are known from 501 up to 542, and were used at the same time. Most of these batches were used for internal trials, field trials, and demonstration cards.

Most of the early countries introducing L&G phonocard phones before 1981, also have cards of the first issues produced as internal trials. These early demo/ trials were given 3 digit controls.

A few are listed here, and others may exist.

019 - Orange Sodeco Belgium (Democard)

051 - D1 and D2 Belgium

071 - D1 Austria

076 - A8 France

081 - D1 Spain

Another interesting card is the Green Belgium D3 20 unit. It dates to about 1979.

This card is known with 2 controls 098 encoded, and 123 not encoded. This card was produced for Great Britain, to show the colour assigned to that country, and to demonstrate the use of the cards. It is extremely rare, especially the encoded card.

And interesting example is the 049 red SODECO card. A portion of this batch, were used to demonstrate the L&G phones at TELECOM ’79. This is the earliest exhibition card known, even if a sticker was merely stuck on the cards. 049, was also used on the first parking card for ZEAG systems, and can also be described as a demonstration card.

The 3 digit control code system was abandoned around 1981.

There are also some 4 digit control codes, and most were used for laboratory testing. Sometimes production cards were separated before serial numbering, and given a control code before use by laboratory engineers. Examples shown here are Swiss D1 with control code 132 1, and Sweden D2 with code 132 4, taken from production at the same time.

A special batch of 4 digit codes, were assigned to show the early countries card designs. There are 6 cards in the series (110 1 to 110 6), and are extremely rare to obtain since they were sent to each country, and used for some internal purpose.

110 1 – Belgium D4

110 2 – Swiss Bundeshaus yellow SODECO

110 3 – GB 40 unit generic

110 4 – Possibly France A8

110 5 – Austria D1

110 6 – Spain D2

These cards are not encoded, and their purpose is not yet fully understood.


Serial numbering began usage also very early, but was used mostly for card batches numbering more than 1000 pieces.

Each card within a batch has a unique number and was issued as a consecutive series making a batch. Records were kept of number series, but most of the early records have been lost. Most of what we know of the early numbering has been laboriously reconstructed, and still much has yet to be learned.

The first numbered cards were probably

0 001 – 0 999 (4 digit) 1976

01 000 – 99 999 (5 digit) 1976-1978

100 000 – 999 999 (6 digit) 1979-1982

The 6 digit numbering was used up within a few years, by about 1982. D1 and D2 Belgium are examples of cards with 5 digit serial numbering. A few other SODECO cards are known from this early 5 digit period, in green, red, and black. By 1981, large quantities of cards were being used in Belgium, Great Britain and Austria, and new numbering was needed.

Some countries were issued with cards having country codes and card type number, followed by a 6-digit serial number. Hence Austria used A0, A1, A2 and Great Britain used G0, G1, G2, G4, G5, G6. Other countries used B (Belgium), C (Switerland), D (Denmark), E (Spain), F (France), K (Sweden), M (Finland), P (Portugal), R (Germany), S (Saudi-Arabia), T (Taiwan or Tunisia). At the beginning, Belgium used B0 and B2 for respectively 20u and 105u cards but the number of produced cards highly increased and the production had to find an other numbering-system for Belgium. Therefore new prefixes were added with a first digit foregoing the "B" and giving the year of production (for example 2B0 is for cards' production in 1982). Prefixes known are 2B0, 3B0, 4B0, 3B1, 4B1, 5B3, 5B4, 5B5, 6B3 and 6B4 for 20 units cards and 2B2, 3B2, 4B2, 5B2 and 6B2 for 105 units cards. The last digit was still intended for the card type number.

From around 1986 all countries began to be issued with dated control codes combined with a 5 digit serial number (for example 605A 99999 where 6 describes the year 1986 ; 05 is the month May ; A the serial ; 99999 the card number in that serial).


Up to 1982 L&G had been using the 6 digit serial numbering for all types of hologyr phonocard, including service and test cards. As the 6 digit series neared its terminus, a series of 2 digit prefixes was proposed to separate the test, service, and other type of special cards from the regular phonocard. These prefixes were followed by a 6-digit serial number which would be assigned various batches.

00 prefix (parking-cards, internal trial-cards, demonstration-cards, and phonocards for special use). At first 00 prefix was used for parking-cards, but from number 00 200001, was switched to phonecard demonstration and trial cards. It includes event cards like the BEXA South Africa, Morocco Games, and various others,

01 prefix (Zeag Systems parking-cards),

02 prefix (Zeag Systems parking-cards),

03 prefix (service- and test-phonocard),

04 prefix (reserve),

05 prefix (petrol-cards “Distribution d'essence”),

06 prefix (reserve),

07 prefix (reserve),

08 prefix (reserve),

09 prefix (identification-cards ID2000).


8. System of Structures n° 1 to n° 26 :

Have a look in the section Technical Features.


9. Most famous Field-Trials :

Hotel Frantel Windsor in Paris (France)
Telefonica Building in Madrid (Spain)
IUT in Geneva (Switzerland)

Sodeco / L&G Head-Offices in Geneva (Switzerland)
Military Maria Theresia Kaserne in Vienna (Austria)
Military area of Dragsvig Tammisaari (Finland)
University Dormitory in Geneva (Switzerland)
Montparnasse Train-station in Paris (France)
Main Train-station in Frankfurt (Germany)
Ann Arbor University in Michigan (USA)
Alcatel Building in Bruxelles (Belgium)
Hotel Penta in Budapest (Hungary)
Main Post-office in Madrid (Spain)
Bundeshaus in Bern (Switzerland)
Military area in Upsaala (Sweden)
L&G Factory in Zug (Switzerland)
Three Valleys in Savoy (France)
Tampereen Puhelin (Finland)
SIP Building in Torino (Italy)
Gwaii Haanas Park (Canada)
Canarias & Alicante (Spain)
Faro & Madeira (Portugal)
San Bernardo (Argentina)
Grand-Bay (Mauritius)
Kankaanpää (Finland)
Hämeelinna (Finland)
Galway (Eire)

10. Description of Telephone-cards :

Cards are described in the Online Landis & Gyr Catalogue.


11. Description of No-Phone Applications :

Cards are described in the No-Phone Application section of the Online Landis & Gyr Catalogue.



Sincerely yours, Alain Knecht (September 2013)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 05:27