Taiwan’s Launch of Mobile Connect Represents Maturity of Asia’s Identity Market

Mobile Connect has now launched in Taiwan, where the digital identity solution is finding a range of applications in the public sector. Through collaboration between Taiwanese operators, municipal authorities in Taipei, and the national government, 2.7 million people in Taipei can now access digital public services, such as healthcare, utilities and transport, securely via Mobile Connect, in the form of pay.Taipei. The number of individuals using the platform is expected to reach 6 million in the near future. Over the course of 2018, verified access to 80% of hospital services, several hundred petrol stations and toll roads, and all water and electricity services will be available digitally.  Commercial purposes will also be served, with payments in taxis and some retail premises already possible, and a range of authentication capabilities forthcoming in banking, investment and insurance. Taiwan joins a growing list of countries around the world where citizens can use Mobile Connect to access such services digitally, by combining the security of mobile networks and the convenience of devices they carry with them every day.

Digital identity verification is an area of immense and rapid growth across Asia. The World Bank estimates that around 1.1 billion people globally lack any official identification, with around 450 million of these people living in Asia. Traditional paper-based systems for identity verification are both highly inefficient and prone to compromise through fraud, damage and human error.  It is, therefore, a historically important development that operators across Asia have this year united behind Mobile Connect as the service best-placed to develop consumer trust and combat fraud by using operator attributes such as usage history and location data to verify transactions. To help bring the ecosystem together in this endeavour, the GSMA convened a two-day summit in Singapore last month where industry leaders, technical experts and government figures met to share thoughts on progress so far across the region.

Mats Granyrd, Director General of the GSMA, laid out in his opening keynote speech how digital identity services can empower citizens, strengthen security, guard individual privacy, and crucially build trust in the digital economy. That digital economy stands today at $50 billion in Southeast Asia alone, with a projected value of $1.2 trillion across Asia as a whole by 2022.  It can only reach this potential, however, if consumer confidence is maximised and, with it, the frequency of online transactions. There are vast opportunities for operators and their partners to ensure that confidence. “Grant Thornton found that the cost of cybercrime in Asia was $81 billion in 2015,” explained Granyrd. “It should, therefore, be of no surprise that demand for identity services is on the rise here in Asia; the addressable market for identity and access management is expected to reach nearly $5 billion by 2022.”

Mobile Connect will be rolled out across Singapore early next year, and the GSMA is working with operators M1, Singtel and StarHub to bring this about. Speaking on our operator panel, StarHub’s Head of Product Justin Ang emphasised the importance of collaboration, if operator-led digital identity is to be a commercial success. “I believe that, with the world changing at a pace which surprises everyone, it will be impossible to achieve our larger objectives in this area without coming together – not just across the three main operators, but also the government. While we are ultimately separate organisations, the size of the prize is great enough for us to overcome the challenges presented by our varying internal systems and commercial objectives.” This message was echoed on a later panel by Victor Tsai, COO of ADTC Taiwan, who confirmed emphatically that “all operators in Taiwan share the same objective; they all have a need to work together to bring an identity service to the end user.” Recognition of the need to cooperate on identity seems to guide thinking among all the major operators in the region.

How can this collaboration best be achieved? “Mutual understanding at the highest levels of all three companies,” explained Alex Tan, Chief Innovation Officer at M1. “Our coming together didn’t just happen. At the end of the day we are competitors, and when there is small pool of competitors in any industry, competition is intense, and knowledge can become the most precious thing commercially. But I think there’s been agreement among management that cooperation is the right thing not just for our companies, but also Singapore as a whole.”

The possibilities for both commercial and civic life brought about by this partnership has attracted the participation of Singapore’s government; GovTech Singapore’s Kwok Quek Sin cited Mobile Connect’s cross-border capabilities among the most compelling advantages now within reach.  “Interoperability, economies of scale, wide population coverage, avoiding unnecessary fragmentation, while offering high levels of assurance over data – this combination benefits all parties. It’s a win-win. And, with our objectives now quite closely aligned, we’re quite optimistic about the outcomes going forward.”

As SEO specialist Dan Clark pointed out, much of Asia is more heavily mobile-oriented than elsewhere in the world, making it a particularly suitable candidate for investment in mobile identity. While in the United States and Australia users are on average 12-15% more likely to use a computer than a mobile device to access online services, in Singapore and Malaysia the reverse is the case, and a similar picture can be found in most major Asian countries. The 2017 GSMA Mobile Economy Asia Pacific report notes that by 2020, an additional 600 million people in the region will have access to the mobile internet, bringing the total to 2.6 billion, or around 62% of Asia’s population. There is a great deal of potential therefore not only for e-commerce, but for civic use as seen in Taiwan. Governments seeking to deploy digital public services will soon be able to count on their citizens being sufficiently equipped with mobile internet to make it the natural choice for authentication. The time to invest in meeting that swiftly approaching demand is now.

The ecosystem as a whole, therefore, will benefit from sharing best practice. Joseph Gan, President and CEO at V-Key, cautioned delegates not to overlook basic design mechanics. “Mobile Connect combines a lot of good things: privacy, consent, and transparency for the user. But for these assets to live up to their promise, their implementation must be carefully designed – everything from how terms and conditions are presented, screen layout, the number of screens you need to click through to complete processes, and so on.  It requires some analytics to see what people are doing, and thereby to optimise these factors; it takes a fair amount of work, and requires some flexibility.”  There was agreement among those hoping to convince consumers of the practicality of Mobile Connect’s advantages that the user experience is key. “It’s amazing how apparently very small things can have a huge effect on outcomes in customer experience,” concurred the GSMA’s Global Head of Technology Jai Rajaraman, to nods across the panel.