BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2015 -- As the GSMA's Mobile Connect digital identity and authentication service begins to take off, European operators stressed the importance of security and privacy for their mobile data services and urged regulators to update the rules on privacy and data protection during the morning keynote session here.
Since the GSM Association (GSMA) launched Mobile Connect last year, 17 operators now offer the service in 13 countries. The service allows mobile users to create a digital identity that will authenticate them securely via their mobile phones in order to access mobile and digital services from banking to healthcare to entertainment. (See Operators See Eye-to-Eye on SIM-Based Security .)
"Inherently, the mobile phone and SIM stand out as the platforms for handling digital identity," said Jon Fredrik Baksaas, president and CEO of Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) and chairman of the GSMA. "Mobile Connect is a fast, reliable and secure authentication system, and the target is to create the so-called single sign-on. Will we reach that? It's hard to say, but the potential for the single sign-on is there."
Baksaas said that by the end of 2016, there should be 1 billion users on the Mobile Connect platform, "If we're successful," adding that standardization and interoperability will be key.
Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) CEO Timotheus Höttges agrees that there is a need for digital identity services, but questioned whether the telecommunications industry alone is best positioned to provide such services soon enough.
"Having someone with identity management is great. Are we as an industry fast enough to deploy this? Or do we find the right partners -- perhaps IT service providers?" he asked. "That could maybe accelerate this."
According to Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) CEO Vittorio Colao, there is a bigger issue at stake. "Clearly, digital identity services are an opportunity for the industry, but it's not the only answer in the role that operators have. It's about trust -- telecom operators are trusted in the end and it's a great asset."
"Consumers want privacy and security," he added, explaining that they don't want one or the other, but both. "Privacy and security must be guaranteed in a data world."
To that end, Colao said that Europe urgently needed a unified security and data privacy legal framework. "It would be a great umbrella to protect EU citizens," and it could also serve as a model for other regions to follow. "I don't see why the EU cannot find a solution."
Deutsche Telekom's Höttges shared Colao's impatience for privacy and security regulation from Brussels. "I hope we get an EU data protection law finalized by the end of the year. It is super critical," he said. "We're dealing with trust and the trust of the consumer is crucial."
He added, "If there's a scandal, who are customers calling? They're calling us," he said. "We just need simple, clear rules."
According to Telefónica Executive Chairman and CEO César Alierta, the issue is about giving people what he called "digital confidence," and the key to ensuring that is protecting their data and privacy. "Telecom operators will play a key role in the digital economy," he said.
— Michelle Donegan, contributing editor, special to Light Reading