Sunday, September 7, 2008

Portugal Technological Achievements

What prompted me to write this entry was reading news around the web and people talking about some recent "amazing technological stuff" that happen to be common place here in Portugal and have been for a very long time.

ATM machines

For instance, take ATM machines (in here called Multibanco.)
Having been used to the Multibanco (MB) machines since my early years, I was shocked when I started traveling to different (and supposedly more "advanced") countries and saw that they had a bunch of different ATM machines, completely old-looking with monochrome screens and often incompatible with my cards.

In Portugal, every card from every bank works in any MB machine. They have large and simple to operate color screens - even capable of playing video ads - and with voice prompts if you want it (useful for impaired vision users.) Also, international cards will automatically trigger the MB machine to display its options in their respective language.
MB is also not just for cash deposits and withdrawls - you have countless operations you can perform: buying tickets for music shows, tickets for train travels, charging up your prepaid cell phone cards, and just about anything you might imagine.

Although some of these are fairly recent, MB has been around since 1985 and is now available everywhere. Just about every place where you might be asked to pay for something has a MB terminal for payments - and you can easily find a cash dispenser MB just about anywhere.
There's really no need to carry around large quantities of cash in Portugal, as you can live by with your MB card.
Needless to say, these machines are fully compatible with all major internationl credit/debit cards (though some stores accept just MB transactions and choose not to accept credit cards.)

There's also, a service that allows you to create virtual credit cards for single operations on the internet. You set the cash and date limit and it creates a unique card number for you to use in a single (or more) operation.

To finish this MB thing, you can also access all of MB functions from your cellphone - meaning you can actually pay for your cell phone using your cell phone (sounds kind of cool, doesn't it? :)

Cell Phones

Talking about cell phones...Portugal is a cellphone heaven (or should I say, hell?)

Everyone has a cellphone... or two... or three. In fact, you're now more likely to find someone having a cellphone than having a fixed line phone.
Even mobile operators offer "fixed" mobile phones for home use (basically a cell phone with a docking station - but restricted to work in a single cell so you can't move it around.)
Any kid going to school is likely to have one, and wherever you go you'll find people happily (and sometimes annoyingly - I admit) texting and chatting on the cellphone.

Why? That's easy... we were the first to introduce prepaid cellphone SIM cards.
Until then, cell phones were quite expensive - both to acquire and to maintain - with hefty monthly fees.
When the prepaid cell phones appeared, people felt they had all the control they needed to finally start using cell phones without worrying about the bill they would get at the end of the month.

The principle is simple and effective: you "fill" your card with a specified amount - let's say, 10 euros. And you start using your cell phone as you wish. At any moment you can easily check how much money you have remaining on your card, and at any moment you can easily fill it up again at any MB machine, over the internet, or even using the cell phone (as I said before.)
There are also ways to transfer money from one cell to another (for example, from a parent's phone to their children) and also ways to request someone to call you back even if you're out of money on your card.

For infrequent callers there are even "no obligation" plans where you're not even required to "fill up" your card. Meaning you can just fill it with $5 and keep it working for the rest of your life (provided you make a phone call once every 6 months or so.)

RFID tickets

In Porto, since 2002, you can use a single RFID ticket called the "Andante" (literally meaning: walker) whether you're taking a train, bus or subway. It was the first fully contactless mass transit ticketing system used in the world.

Electronic Toll collection systems

I can't help but chuckle everytime I hear/read about some country implementing non-stop electronic tolls.
We have our own Via Verde (literally: Green Way) since 1991 - yep, that's right: 17 years ago!
Since 1995 it has been implemented in *every* toll in the country and it allows you to simply drive by a special non-stopping lane to be charged without stopping. That operation will appear in your bank statement.

More recently, they have ditched the toll booths all together and use just an overhead structure - meaning you have just a free empty stretch of highway, and you don't even need to slow down like in the older "Via Verde" lanes. (If you want/need to pay the old-fashioned way you'll need to take a detour and head for the toll booths.)

Starting next year, every car in the country will be *required* to have a license plate ID chip that will be compatible with this system - meaning no one will have ever have to stop in toll booths again.

In other areas, I could talk about Cristiano Ronaldo, Figo, or even Port Wine and our yummy Francesinhas... but that's stuff for another post. :)


  1. Oh k, here are my comments! :oP

    a) are you sure the 'prepaid' plans were invented here? (i don't'm just asking! :o))

    b) regarding our ATMs, i was also shocked to see how antiquated they can be in other countries! (although i'm guessing they are less trouble since they are simple terminals and don't run MS Windows :oP)

    c) another technological achievement is: you can pay gas or park in some places with your 'via verde' thingie :oP

    d) and, another one: the system that enables you to know how long is your bus late by sending SMS or simply by looking at the estimate time at a electronic board at the bus stop! It was developed by a phd at FEUP (the faculty of engineering for the Oporto University)! ;o)


  2. @Luis

    a)I was pretty sure about it - I had to write a paper about it many years ago - but now I can't find any credible references for it.


    Ok, just found something:
    "Destacando-se, entre outros lançamentos pioneiros, por ter sido o primeiro operador, no Mundo, a conceber e lançar o pré-pago, com o Mimo, em Setembro de 1995"

    Roughly translated for our english readers:
    "... for being the first operator to develop and deploy prepaid SIM cards, in September 1995"

    Telecom site states the same:
    "1995 - A TMN lança o MIMO, o primeiro cartão pré-pago do Mundo..."

    b) Yes, caught some BIOS Post error messages sometime (very rarely), but strangely never got a blue screen of death on it. :)

    c) Wireless payments... we're on top of technological things... for "payments". :)

    d) Well, it may be; but I have seen those kinds of displays in other countries for a long time before we had those.
    Beside, better that that would be to have those BUS actually following their schedule instead of being total chaos. :)


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