Mobile device makers, wireless carriers plan to bring verifiable identity to developing world

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Goodix's in-dispaly fingerprint sensor was unveiled at MWC 2017.

With some 1.5 billion people across the globe lacking a proper, verifiable form of identification, the solution could already be in their pockets, in the form of a high-speed connected, portable and secure device.

Identity and sustainable development goals surrounding identity issues played a major part in this year’s Mobile World Congress industry show in Barcelona, Spain. Speaking on the latest State of Identity podcast, GSMA head of digital identity Kyla Reid said this year’s show made it clear to her that device makers and carriers see themselves playing a major role in solving identity barriers around the world.

In particular, she said, MWC 2017 had a particular focus on how to build systems and services for next-generation devices tapped into the digital economy, especially those on 5G wireless networks.

Peter Counter, managing editor at FindBiometrics and MobileIDWorld, agreed with that assessment, noting that fingerprint sensors on mobile devices used to be something of a novelty, but now are becoming integral into not only the daily use, but also the overall design of the product. He said its’ a sign of a “state of maturity for biometrics,” occurring as 5G networks and the Internet of Things are expected to bring big changes.

In particular, Counter cited Chinese manufacturer Goodix, who unveiled the world’s first in-display fingerprint sensor at MWC 2017. He believes such technology will make it so that fingerprint sensors will become embedded in many more devices, serving as something of an expected feature in mobile electronics.

The discussion is much different from just 12 months ago, when the rapidly changing consumer electronics industry was still trying to figure out how to properly implement biometrics, said David Pollington, head of applications and services at GSMA Mobile. Now, driven by a need for users to have a convenient way to identify themselves, he believes biometrics are turning the corner.

“There’s always this tradeoff between security and convenience to the user,” Pollington said. “And many people are now understanding how biometrics can find that right balance.”

The biggest beneficiaries of that proper balance, Reid believes, might be those 1.5 billion people still stuck in the global identity gap. And that’s where mobile operators and handset makers could make a major difference.

“Strong, secure and unique identity is really a prerequisite for accessing so many of those services, and the industry is really uniquely positioned to play a role,” Reid said.

For more, listen to One World Identity’s Mobile World Congress 2017 recap on the latest episode of the State of Identity podcast. And subscribe to the show on iTunes to hear the latest episodes every week.