Identity Innovation Labs Shanghai: Operators the Natural Gatekeepers of Online Identity

“And what do people need when their lives go online? Digital identity.”

-Julian Gorman, Head of Strategic Engagement in Asia, GSMA 

As delegates gathered for the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai last month, the GSMA released the Mobile Economy: Asia Pacific report. The findings confirm the picture to which we are now becoming accustomed: in terms of cellular connections, unique subscribers and projected growth, Asia leads the way. With 5 billion unique mobile subscribers around the world now, around half are already in Asia; as this rises to 6 billion in 2025, Asia’s share is set to become disproportionately higher still. The growth in connections driven by this means that, over the same period, mobile broadband will count for 93% of all broadband connections in Asia – up from 61% today. The emphasis in Asia is on ‘mobile-first’ when it comes to internet connectivity, even in less affluent societies – 80% of users in Myanmar for instance use smartphones, contributing to the projected 3.9 billion total smartphones across Asia by 2025.

These projections formed the context for the GSMA’s Identity Innovation Labs, which brought together experts and industry leaders from across the ecosystem to consider progress and opportunities in Asia’s digital identity market. The GSMA’s Head of Strategic Engagement in Asia Julian Gorman explained how concentrated in Asia those opportunities are in the coming years: “The desire and ambition to get online is global, but it’s strongest in Asia, where it’s mobile-first.  Mobile internet users will grow to around two thirds of all subscribers by 2025, most of them daily users as their whole lives go online. And what do people need when their lives go online? Digital identity.”

The GSMA has been working with operators since 2013 to grow the market in digital identity, and over the last five years the pace of uptake has quickened considerably, to the point where in Asia-Pacific the gains achieved form a pivotal component of the region’s future economy.  “This year’s Mobile World Congress Shanghai is the one that’s really confirmed that was the right path,” Gorman explained, pointing out that the chief strategic reason operators say they are now placing such stock in digital identity is not so much transactions carried out via their platforms, but data. “Connecting data to a single identifier helps them to understand their customers better, and that helps them pursue markets which are fundamental to their core business. eKYC is really coming to the fore – that’s the great opportunity now that’s really growing.”

Bringing usage data and user attributes together to underpin digital identity services presents a win-win for operators: allowing them to profit both from the identity services they provide and the transactions carried out through them, while simultaneously achieving better knowledge of their customers in the process. “The key message is that mobile operators have an important part to play here, and one they can monetise very effectively,” explained LokeHwee Wong, VP for Strategic Projects at Giesecke and Devrient. “In accounts, eCommerce, check-in and hospitality, eGovernment, age verification and much more, mobile network user attributes can play a central role.” Mr Wong pointed out estimates by McKinsey last month which found the current market for identity verification services is now close to $10 billion, and is forecast to reach as much as £20 billion by 2022. “Mobile identity is the new oil – once refined it’s incredibly valuable.”

This potential can be realised through strategic partnerships, which operators now have a very strong record in securing. Event sponsor, Trulioo’s Business Development Head, Ivan Yang, explained that “Trulioo are kind of like the Air B’n’B or Uber of database handlers – we don’t own much of the data we work with, but by partnering with organisations that do we are able to verify the identities of over 4.5 billion people and 250 million businesses via one API.” Operators are the ideal partners for such purposes as digital identity verification becomes an increasingly cross-border affair, due to the global infrastructure they support, the uniquely suitable customer data they own, and the excellent progress they have made in collaboration within the industry. Operators in China, the US, Russia, Spain, Germany and elsewhere are coming together to deploy Mobile Connect, the pan-industry digital identity service, allowing identity verification worldwide through one API.  Operators are even collaborating across continents to this end: our Identity Innovation Labs were pleased to host a demonstration by SKT and Deutsche Telekom of their new universal authentication tool PASS, orientated around on SKT’s Mobile Connect-based solution T-Auth. 77 million monthly users can now complete transactions from buying cosmetics to viewing multimedia, and access WiFi services remotely – from outside the local jurisdiction.

Increasingly important to this cross-border commerce and marketing will be Rich Communications Services, or ‘RCS’ – chat-format messaging which brings customers and brands together through enhanced multimedia of far more sophisticated capabilities than SMS. In an age of phishing scams sent via SMS, consumers are increasingly wary of the authenticity of B2C messaging, and of the uses to which their data is put. A clear majority of respondents to a recent survey by OpenMarket indicated they want not just personalised promotions which appeal to a variety of senses, but that they would prefer such capabilities built natively into their phones rather than as additional apps; of enterprises surveyed fully 82% expressed interest in delivering this via RCS.

Director of Mobile Identity Operations at China Mobile Huang Xi explained to attendees that by leveraging the unique position mobile networks offer such purposes, operators can optimise delivery of RCS via Mobile Connect, allowing users to verify both their own identity and that of the brands they interact with seamlessly. By pairing identity claims with devices, usage attributes and biometrics, the vast commercial potential of RCS can be realised – we hope and expect the interest in RCS to continue intensifying among operators, as they step up to this challenge which they are best-placed to meet.


For more information please see MWCS18 Identity Innovation Labs Presentations