Rapid-fire Processing

March 29, 2001 | by

Switching from lease line communication to dial-up on an ATM terminal is an economic decision, in most cases. Of course, there's more to it than just changing out hardware.

Once the communications is in place, ATM owners must make sure the ATM is able to shake hands with networks and processors that deliver transactions to hosts.

It's a simple process.

Modern ATM hardware, software and networks are equipped to communicate in about a dozen different machine languages that are well understood by manufacturers and developers of all three. Bob Nemens, senior marketing manager for Diebold Global Marketing in Canton, Ohio, said manufacturers acknowledge the importance of uniformity in design.

"No manufacturer would create some exotic machine language that couldn't plug into the existing networks. As long as the message coming out of the machine is compatible for that particular network, you won't have a problem," he said.

Since every component is essentially speaking the same language, the switch from lease line to dial-up is smooth. Brian Mecca, manager of data center operations for NYCE, an EFT network, said that a converted ATM's new modem arrives pre-programmed to recognize the communications protocol of any host on the network to which it's connected. In fact, the modem's job is to "spoof" the lease line, or trick the host into believing that nothing's changed. All NYCE has to do, he said, is note in its database that the hardware has been converted, while the communications devices remain indifferent to the change.

"The dial-up modem looks like the former lease line," said Mecca, whose company is based in Woodcliff, N.J. "We do know if there's a hardware change if we're driving the ATM. But the ATM itself is really the same."

On occasion, the modem's software is upgraded to ensure access to a new network. David Howe, senior vice president of ATM services division at Lynk Systems, Inc., in Atlanta, said that upgrade is usually accomplished in minutes by downloading the software through the just-installed modem.

Such seamless transitions can be credited to the many advances in network routers and switches built to understand a wide variety of communications protocols. Theirs also is the yeoman's work of moving ATM transactions from machine to host.

Point A to B to A

When an ATM card is swiped and the PIN is entered at a dial-up ATM, the modem goes online and connects to a network. At the same time the machine also readies the customer's transaction request by securing it in a format commonly called "DES," or data encryption standard. Contained within that message is the BIN (bank identification number, the depository of the customer's money), the ATM's terminal ID number, and an authorization amount.

Once connected to the network, the message is sent upline first to a network router that chooses the transaction's path, and then to a switch that determines the host destination. In the blink of an eye, the message is decrypted, its information is deciphered, and then it's re-encrypted and sent on to the host.

The host determines whether the message is an "on us" or "off us" transaction. An "on us" transaction is one destined for the bank that owns that particular host. The host then checks the amount of cash requested, confirms whether the customer has the money, and then authorizes or denies the transaction. En route back to the ATM, the message will travel the same path.

If the transaction is "off us," or not from the host's bank, the host will then direct it to the customer's financial institution, which will issue the same authorization or denial to dispense cash.

If all goes well, these actions take place in seconds, and customers get their cash in a hurry. But if a communication failure occurs at any point during the transaction, timers, which are in place at transition points along the network, will "time out" or cancel it after a determined period of time. The customer at the ATM will then be notified of the cancellation.

"Most authorizations happen in 1 to 2 seconds," said Brian Mecca, manager of data center operations at NYCE, a third-party processor based in Woodcliff, N.J.

"Some networks who are having problems with their volume can take as many as 12 to 14 seconds. We have to have timers set also for other companies we deal with, who might time us out. So if they're looking to get a transaction back in 18 seconds, we have to set our timer to have it back from another client in 17 seconds."

While a lease line might speed up transaction time, the difference wouldn't be noticeable, said Nemens.

"To overcome some of that lag time-which is brief-we can program the machine to start dialing when you swipe the card," said Nemens. "By the time you make a request for that transaction, the host is already waiting for that data transfer."

Their downside, however, to Diebold's rapid logon scenario is this: If that ATM's communication charges are billed on a per-call basis, and then the customer cancels the transaction, there's still a charge for the phone call. And some customers do cancel transactions when the ATM notifies them of the surcharge associated with the transaction.

"But if I'm doing a thousand or 1,500 transactions a month, I'll take the chance that not too many people are going to cancel the transaction," Nemens said. "And I'm going to get more repeat usage at that site because the customer is happy with the speed of that transaction. So it's not a huge drawback."

Topics: Bank / Credit Union, Components, EFT Networks, Networking / Connectivity, North America, Retail / Off-Premises, Software, Transaction Processing, Trends / Statistics

Companies: Diebold, Incorporated

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