Empowering digital identity: how mobile network operators are shaping the European ID wallet ecosystem

The European Commission will implement a revision of the eIDAS Regulation to increase security and trust in electronic transactions across the EU, supported by four EU large-scale pilot projects. One of these large-scale pilots was announced last year by the POTENTIAL consortium – a European Digital Identity Wallet in 19 countries across the continent. The pilot involves 143 partners from all sectors of industry and public administration, as well as a number of mobile network operators such as Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica, Orange and Vodafone. It will test registrations for bank accounts, driving licences, SIM e-registration and e-prescriptions, alongside existing trials for other online services. The wallet is the latest manifestation of the framework for European digital identity (eID), which aims to provide secure, trusted identity verification to gain access to services – and crucially, to do so across borders.

As is made clear in the GSMA’s eIDAS position paper released in 2022, the industry possesses substantial assets, such as physical shops and existing digital processes for ID verification, which will allow mobile operators to help deploy digital wallets at a ‘high’ assurance level. Mobile operators also bring extensive reach, expertise in authentication and compliance processes such as Know Your Customer (KYC), simplifying the adoption wallet’s adoption in the private sector. With their commitment to both security by design and privacy by design, operators are well placed to ensure tamper-proof solutions that meet eID security requirements.

Mobile operators can play a key role in enabling the eIDAS ecosystem as issuers and verifiers of verifiable credentials, providing the SIM as a secure element and engaging reliable connectivity, managing digital identities and offering value-added services that use eIDAS capabilities and the EU digital ID wallet. The GSMA has been in regular consultation with the EU Commission and published three whitepapers* highlighting how mobile assets could participate in the delivery of secure, privacy-preserving European identity wallets at scale.

The trials, due to run until the end of 2024, add momentum to the creation of widespread digital verification infrastructure that can support secure and convenient verification for a variety of applications, such as health records and travel documentation. In the pilot, the focus for mobile network operators is on enhancing digital wallet transactions, particularly for prepaid SIM card activation. This also entails the development of cross-border capabilities of the wallet, ensuring seamless access to all identification documents of Member States, all while adhering to the highest standards of data protection and security. Europeans, like everyone else, are now adapting to the use of digital wallets in commercial services, and increasingly expecting this to be possible for public services too. Research from Thales finds that Europeans are warm to the arrival of the European digital ID wallet, with 66% planning to adopt it.

The project is the result of many years of cooperation between the telecoms industry and EU institutions, and is a further demonstration of the trust that European supranational regulators have in mobile networks and their operators. As well as being closely involved in the development of the Architecture and Reference Framework, mobile operators are in an ideal position to help Member States roll out their digital wallets as quickly as possible.

As more of our surrounding infrastructure and services become connected, institutions across the board are under greater pressure to ensure their services are compatible with secure, digital means of identity verification to accompany conventional methods.

Mobile network assets can help meet the EU’s goal of making eIDs usable and interoperable across borders throughout the Union. Whether it’s helping travellers access services abroad without complications, or facilitating secure relocation from one country to another, eID will play a significant role in making the verification process more secure and convenient, and play a key role in underpinning streamlined commerce fit for the digital age.

Find out more:

Official Response on eIDAS 2.0 and Privacy;
Architecture Considerations for eIDAS 2.0;
Mobile Number as a Verifiable Credential in eIDAS 2.0 Wallets