Earlier this month, Mobile ID World president Peter O’Neill attended Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, a mobile industry leading event hosted by GSMA. This year, biometrics and digital identity were massive topics of interest at MWC, as were IoT, mobile payments, and virtual reality. All in all, it was a landmark event for the conference, which had a record breaking 100,000 attendees.
O’Neill had a chance to follow up with David Pollington, Head of Applications & Services, GSMA. The following interview deconstructs some of the major trends at this year’s MWC, discusses how the GSMA’s Mobile Connect fits in with FIDO Alliance authentication standards, and examines how and why biometrics are becoming so popular in the mobile markets.
Peter O’Neill, President, Mobile ID World (MIDW): This has been a milestone year for the Mobile World Congress reaching over a 100,000 attendees, what is driving this growth?
David Pollington, Head of Applications & Services, GSMA: The mobile industry is forever expanding and an interesting proof point is that there are now more mobile devices connected to the internet than there are desktop or tablet. So as the internet transitions from the previous desktop domain into the mobile domain, there is so much more focus now around mobile and how it will drive the growth of the internet. One particular aspect that was a focus for the show this year was around the Internet of Things, around M2M and the connectivity of everything. Everything now is becoming mobile, everything is becoming connected, so the show is embracing the breadth of that opportunity.
MIDW: I also noticed an increase from the previous year in the IoT focus. VR technology seemed to be on display in a lot of areas and the connected car was also hot. What do you feel were some of the real highlights of the show this year?
GSMA: The Mobile Connect initiative saw a lot of media interest, especially following the announcement that in the last twelve months the initiative has delivered over 2 billion enabled customers to use Mobile Connect services – a staggering growth in the ability to authenticate people by their mobile devices and make it easy for them to control their identities online.
MIDW: I also saw a marked increase in the focus on biometrics especially for financial and enterprise security, did you also experience this?
GSMA: Yes, there is clearly a trend towards stronger authentication, and within that people understand now that a good way of achieving stronger authentication is through multiple factors of authentication. Traditionally we have seen the internet space being driven by knowledge based authentication (usernames and passwords), and where the internet space has tried to bring in additional factors in terms of things like hardware tokens, they’ve found a lot of resistance from the public because of the increase in friction and inconvenience in having to have access to the hardware token. So this is where Mobile Connect is really trying to address that pain point and be able to use the mobile phone, the device that you always carry around with you wherever you go, as being one of those factors of authentication.
Essentially it is ‘something you have’ and then you can layer on top of that a number of additional authentication factors that can be knowledge based or leveraging biometrics. We’re seeing increasing interest in biometrics as a way within a multi-factor authentication scheme to provide something that is very simple to use and very intuitive for the user. Things like fingerprint recognition has obviously been predominant in the past, but there was a lot of discussion at the show around other techniques such as facial recognition, iris recognition, voice recognition and other modes of biometric authentication that can be used within the framework of a multi-factor authentication scheme like Mobile Connect to really make it a lot easier and convenient for a user to be able to safely identify themselves and authenticate and authorize transactions online.
MIDW: Well the timing of Mobile Connect seems to be ideal because in the payment industry especially, we are seeing a tremendous push forward – MasterCard announcing Identity Check, Visa had all the biometrics you just mentioned front and center at their booth – so thank you very much for explaining how biometrics fit into the Mobile Connect platform.
How do things like the FIDO organization fit within the Mobile Connect platform?
GSMA: A very good question. Mobile Connect is architected to decouple the provision of the service northbound to the Service Provider from the method of authentication. So we purposely architected Mobile Connect to be able to embrace and utilize any new authentication capability that comes along and this allows us to plug FIDO into Mobile Connect thereby leveraging a whole range of different authenticators on the device itself and in particular an ability to add biometrics to our authentication reportoire.
MIDW: David, you mentioned that you are up to 2 billion exposed to Mobile Connect. I think the last I heard there were 17 mobile operators and 13 different countries. Has that expanded?
GSMA: It has. It is now more than 34 operators and 21 countries. And it is well north of 2 billion users now.
MIDW: David thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.
GSMA: Peter, it was great to see you at the show. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on this year’s success.