Access to Mobile and Proof of Identity: A global snapshot of linkages, challenges and opportunities

February 23, 2018 | Digital Identity | Global | Global | Yiannis Theodorou

With a global subscriber base that surpassed 5 billion in 2017, the mobile ecosystem has created a global digital platform that is increasingly connecting everyone and everything. Given this scale, the mobile industry has a unique opportunity to bring the benefits of digital technology to many of the poorest and hardest to reach communities around the world, and in doing so, help deliver one of the key targets of UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 16: ‘by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration’.

As more countries – particularly in the developing world – continue to implement their Digital Transformation strategies, proving one’s identity digitally will become increasingly fundamental to participation and inclusion. A key step to this inclusion is people’s ability to access mobile services in their own name but this may not be possible for millions of vulnerable groups who lack the recognised identification credentials and reside in countries where prepaid SIM registration is mandated.

Building on the GSMA’s previous reports, our new policy research published today offers a global perspective of trends and linkages between access to mobile and access to official identification. It also examines mandatory SIM registration policies across the 147 countries worldwide where proof-of-identity is required to register a prepaid mobile SIM card in one’s own name.


Download the report


Individuals’ ability to access a recognised form of identification and register for a mobile subscription in their own names could unlock access to a plethora of mobile-enabled services, such as Mobile Money accounts, Pay-as-you-go Utility services, educational, health and other digital services.

Yet, most markets with low mobile penetration are also characterised by low levels of registered populations, suggesting a direct relationship between people’s ability to access a government-recognised proof-of-identity and the level of mobile penetration in that market.

This finding supports the conclusion that millions of individuals who lack a proof-of-identity face a higher risk of social, digital and financial exclusion where they cannot meet mandatory identification requirements for registering a SIM card in their own names.

Our research also found that a small but slowly increasing number of countries have adopted biometric technologies for registering SIM cards while also building capabilities for enabling (and requiring) MNOs to validate their customers’ identification credentials against a central database in real time.

Half of the countries mandating prepaid SIM registration have no or inadequate privacy/data protection frameworks in place with consumers potentially having limited, if any, rights to seek legal redress against possible violations of their privacy or personal data. This may not only lead to consumer calls for increased transparency on how personal data are used but could also adversely impact their willingness to register a SIM in their own names or adopt identity-linked mobile services. Additionally, transparency to consumers about how their data is used is important for maintaining high levels of trust in digital and mobile ecosystems.

In order to drive improved social, political and economic inclusion, as well as engender trust in the digital ecosystem, the need for enabling policy and regulatory environments should not be underestimated – particularly where SIM registration is mandated. Elements of such an environment include:

  • Empowering every individual to access an official or recognised form of identification while acknowledging the central role mobile operators (due to their existing reach and data processes) can play in building or supporting the digital identity ecosystem;
  • Ensuring consistency between the different legal and regulatory instruments that affect the management and the rollout of mobile identity services;
  • Establishing or maintaining privacy and data protection frameworks that foster trust in mobile and digital identity ecosystems;
  • Engaging with mobile operators, key stakeholders and the wider identification ecosystem to help drive innovative and interoperable solutions and encourage adoption (e.g. through eGovernment and digital social protection services).


This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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