Mobile Connect Powers Sustained Growth in eCommerce through Industry Collaboration

February 28, 2019


It’s been an exceptional year of progress in digital identity.  As more and more consumers have been enabled to verify their identities online, we’ve seen a blooming of digital transactions around the world: eCommerce has grown a striking 21% globally in the last year, bringing it to $2 trillion in value overall.  At the centre of this process has been Mobile Connect, the mobile industry’s collaborative digital identity API, which is now launching at a rate of one new operators per month around the world.

These successes to date were the focus of yesterday’s seminar Mobile Connect: The Rise of Digital Identity, which brought together leading operators with their security and deployment partners to take stock and consider progress from here.

As AT&T’s Johannes Jaskolski, General Manager for the Mobile Authentication Taskforce, pointed out – the cooperative effort by the Big Four operators to deploy Project Verify in the USA – “the global economy is going digital, but even more important, it’s going mobile”.

There is however a good deal of work yet to do, if this growth in online commerce is to be secured, maintained and built upon.  Passwords remain the prevalent form of authentication, with all the inconvenience and security risks they entail. As the GSMA’s Head of Identity Business Development Marie Austenaa noted, the average consumer now has 92 passwords – or, perhaps more specifically, 92 online accounts requiring username-and-password logins. This rises to a staggering 191 for business users. The impossibility of remembering such a number, and the dire security implications of reusing the same one in so many places, neatly illustrates the need for more sophisticated – but, crucially, simplified – solutions to proving one’s identity online.

Yet it can feel in some quarters going backwards: as privacy and security concerns over social media logins grow, some websites are reverting to the old norm of passwords (most recently, as Marie noted, the Economist).  Partly as a result, of the 3 billion data breaches last year, 65% were forms of identity theft.  2.1% of global online revenues were lost to cybercrime over that period, which may sound like an inconvenience more than an existential threat, but is more than the margin of many businesses out there.

That’s why operators across 40 different markets now offer Mobile Connect – which identifies users quickly and simply by pairing them with their device and network attributes – with 5 more launching in the next few months. There are now half a billion users globally – meaning just five years after the initial concept, one in every fifteen people on earth is a monthly active user!

There is a notable geographic spread to this take-up: naturally the enormous Chinese market makes up a significant proportion of this total, but deployment is strong across Europe, the Americas and the rest of Asia too. A year after launching for instance, Turkcell’s version of Mobile Connect, Fast Login, is now used as standard for transactions made by Turkcell’s subscribers. It has recorded a four-fold increase in regular users on this time last year, and has become commercially self-sustaining. “Mobile Connect is now the entrance point to all our other services,” explained Digital Identity Manager at Turkcell, Banu Goren.

For Deutsche Telekom too, using Mobile Connect has been “the natural choice” –“it’s a no brainer”, according to Head of Identity Management Andrzej Ochocki – with a pipeline of partnerships and use cases ahead for 2019.

In Korea, the major operators are collaborating on a fully interoperable identity service jointly-branded as Pass, which indicates the collaborative direction of travel that will be so essential to the ongoing success of cellular identity solutions. SKT’s Doyoung Kim projects that 80% of digital transactions will soon by conducted via Pass. In France, the picture was summed up with characteristic frankness by Product Marketing Director at Orange, Pierre-Francois Dubois: “Mobile Connect is the way to address the market both widely and deeply.”

Mobile Connect is now therefore becoming a core offering among increasing numbers of operators, and the proof is in customer approval: consumers vote with their wallets, and the ongoing swift increase in users speaks volumes. “That’s why we really believe in the future of Mobile Connect and its ability to place operators at the centre of digital identity,” reflected MegaFon’s Head of Mobile Advertising Products Evgeniya Shulipina.

Essential to continued success here is empowerment of the user – only by reassuring consumers of their privacy and security, in a way that saves them time and effort, can the mobile industry build on its position as the natural gatekeepers of digital identity.  As AT&T’s Mr Jaskolski pointed out, therefore, the increasingly dire public mood faced by social media platforms must be avoided at all costs: “just funnelling all the data into one place would make us part of the problem – we want to be part of the solution.”

That’s why the Mobile Authentication Task Force’s authentication solution, which goes by the name of Project Verify, places consent at the heart of every transaction, and runs additional seamless checks as standard through the user’s phone number, user credentials, SIM card details, account type and tenure. “This is about the end-user gaining control – we’re trying to bring more confidence into the ecosystem.”

These security credentials must however come in seamless form, or consumers simply won’t use them. This simplicity is key for Microsoft: “if there’s even one extra layer of complexity, it’ll fail. The interface needs to be completely seamless, or it’ll fail,” warned Senior Programme Manager at Microsoft Morgan Webb, reflecting on Microsoft’s pilot of Mobile Connect through Azure AD.

Thankfully that user-friendliness has been a priority from the outset, and the pilot has now been successfully completed with a view to commercial launch over the summer. Mr Webb noted that “partnerships like this are a big focus for Microsoft. We’ve gone from being a partner-led business to a partner-first business – by bundling our products commercially around the world – that’s how we achieve scale and innovation, and that’s what we’ve been doing with the GSMA and the key operators we’ve been working with.”

The ongoing proof-points in these partnerships have made for a gratifying year in digital identity.  Marcus Dormanns, Senior Director of Platforms and Operations Identity at the GSMA, observed in his concluding presentation that yesterday’s session demonstrated that taking Mobile Connect to market has never been easier. Where once it may have felt a little like “herding cats”, as Marie Austenna put it, the industry is now making a remarkable job of singing to the same tune – and users around the world are rewarding them for it.


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