Mobile Network Operators to Provide Key Piece in Identity Puzzle

As digital services grow in number and sophistication, consumers have whetted their appetite for those which provide unrivalled everyday convenience. As businesses harness the variety of technological developments that enhance their commercial offerings, they are faced with the question crucial to their progress: how do we identify and verify customers?

This was examined in the GSMA’s industry seminar ‘Data Attributes as the New Digital Identity Currency’ held on February 26th at Mobile World Congress 2018. Here, experts from across the mobile and identity ecosystems shared ideas with the aim of forming a common approach to a dilemma which has the potential to halt our digital evolution.

The problem was underscored by BICS’ Senior Product Manager Ravish Patel who conveyed the extent of the widespread falsification of user data. For example, “In the UK, a staggering 50% of users falsify their account details during the onboarding process”. The effects of this can be costly for both parties; for the business, it creates a barrier for the creation of more refined and tailored services. This penalty is naturally felt by the consumers, as well as the potential to cause confusion when asked to verify their own identity upon point of access. In essence, the interests of both consumers and businesses converge on this point – there needs to be a fundamental rethink on how we deal with commerce and identity.

Operators, Patel suggested, are the guardians of incredibly unique and reliable data – the mobile phone number. Unlike other numbers which have acted as unique personal identifiers such as ICQ, mobile numbers, he insisted, are here to stay. He didn’t stop there, in reality, operators are highly regarded for the reliability of their data, for example, operator-based location data, is far more reliable than GPS, which in his view, can be spoofed fairly easily.

The reliability and regularity with which this data is used has placed operators in a distinct position to offer complete identity packages rather than pure data. “The attribute ecosystem is going to be built on top of an authentication solution – that’s how it’s done, it’s necessary” asserted Johannes Jaskolski, Assistant VP of Identity and Access Management, AT&T. Aparna Khurjekar of Verizon agreed that operators were shaping up to offer a holistic identity packages which would include both a variety of services including both authorisation and authentication capabilities.

Operators were well on the way to developing commercial offerings. Referring to the AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon ‘Mobile Authentication Taskforce’, Jaskolski declared that “we are further along in the collaboration than you might think – we are not slow and low, this is aggressive.” This point was crucial, for there seems to be a strong consensus from the wider ecosystem that operators can greatly improve and simplify their commercial offerings by providing an interoperable service that draws upon data from as many operators as possible.

In the U.S. like many other countries, this already seems to be the direction of travel. However, Atredeev Banerjee, VP of Mobile Identity Products, Danal, highlighted the need for global interoperability; “no identity solution is scalable if it’s not total inclusive, there has to be a consortium view, it has to be global because all the new use cases are global”.

SK Telecom’s Identity Project Manager Andy Kim, echoed this, pointing to SKT’s prioritisation of cross-border trade, ‘we check number and age – this is how we build cross-border services’. This of course is of central to the mission statement of Mobile Connect, the universal identity solution that relies on a device which people always have with them – their mobile phone. Now live in over markets, Mobile Connect represents a compelling alternative to the username and password model. As put by Patrice Slupowski VP of Digital Innovation for Orange “what’s the most used feature on every website? ‘I forgot my password’. The password is dead – this is the definition of digital.” With new operators committing to Mobile Connect on a regular basis, the identity solution may pave the way for more convenient and secure access to the services of an increasingly connected and digital world.