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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

VodaIdentity 2.0

The SIM card as a personal authentication device allowing a small amount of user defined storage was one of the great innovations of GSM technology and at the time was a great differentiator compared to the competing digital technologies of CDMA & TDMA. It effectively meant that I was no longer tied to the network provided handset and if I wanted I could swap handsets many times a day and carry my address book within the tiny smartcard chip. Now everyone takes the technological leap forward for granted and smart cards are all persuasive as an integral part of security devices in both set-top boxes and even today chip and pin cards are nearly ubiquitous in the UK. A brief history of the Smart Card technology can be found here .

This portable authentication device is a huge leap forward compared to Web1.0 where identity was deliberately designed in as (nearly) anonymous at the network layer and is one of the few areas where the mobile world is actually a vast improvement on the wired world (together with the more obvious portability). Although, a rather controversial statement, I think if the web was re-designed today anonymity would no longer be permitted and some of the more recent attempts to design a web wide authentication scheme are struggling. eg for Microsoft Passport and Liberty Alliance Project ). I'm not even going to mention the more general pending catastrophe that is the UK governments ID card scheme

I believe that the mobile industry should drive home this advantage in already having rolled out part of the technology and having it accepted by the vast majority of the Western European population. The first signs of Identity 2.0 are emerging in Japan with the new Sharp 904SH handset. This contains recognition functionality based upon Facial features using OKI technology.

The trick for widespread adoption is getting the user to accept the technology themselves rather than having big brother impose upon them. This will only happen if the benefits are immediately apparent to the user: in this case of securing privacy on a highly personal device. Once adoption is widespread and accepted then rolling it out across other third party services which bring convenience to the user will be relatively simple.

  • Want to avoid taking reams of documents to the bank when opening up a new account? Then use VodaIdentity 2.0 on your mobile phone to confirm your identity all for the cost of a MMS.
  • Want to sign up to a free newsletter or other service on the Web? Then send a MMS of your face and all your details will immediately be created. This will also provide confirmation of your age for more adult content.
  • Want to avoid proving your identity to police when stopped for a traffic violation? Then use VodaIdentity 2.0 on your mobile phone to confirm your identity all for the cost of a MMS. It will also confirm that you have up-to-date insurance and for the vehicle and avoid a later visit to the local police station.

The uses and benefits are endless...

If you sell the service as making life simpler, do not make it mandatory and use technology that the user is comfortable with then the chances are radically improved for both adoption of the technology and people actually paying for it.

From a technological point of view, the Next Generation Networks which are starting to be built based upon IMS technology (which used to be called 3G-IP) use the mobile network concepts of IMSI, IMEI and MSISDN (the basic definitions stored on a SIM cards and authenticated), so expect to see a lot more SIM cards in use on fixed networks over the next 5-10 years.

Personally, I think one of biggest mistakes by Vodafone was when they allowed BT a free ride to bid, win and build the nationwide TETRA emergency services contract (which has now morphed into o2 Airwave) issued by the Home Office; they should not allow BT a free ride to win the UK National Identity Card, which I can almost guarantee BT will bid on