Mobile Identity Acceleration in a Market Anchored to the Physical

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4Q 2021 | IN-6389

Though there are many promising developments in the push for mobile identification methods, there is still a strong emphasis on physical identification means.

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Washington D.C. TO Join Cohort of States with Mobile Driver's License


Washington D.C. is set to join eight other U.S. states in implementing a mobile solution for ID, specifically a digitized mobile companion to citizen’s physical driver’s licenses. D.C. followed suit soon after the state of Iowa announced similar plans in late November 2021, continuing the conversation brought to mainstream attention following Apple’s announcement of the Apple ID wallet. Whilst Apple have pushed back release of their mobile ID (mID) functionality to early 2022, they sit amongst a handful of smartphone Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and major tech players who seek to offer their own mobile identity platform in the near future. The relevance and feasibility of mobile credentials is on the rise, with ABI Research forecasting the installed base of mobile credentials to rise by a factor of four over the next five years. Current and upcoming projects are being set into motion globally, where a competitive landscape of mobile ID service-givers is emerging.

Where Do Mobile Identity Solutions Sit in the Present Day?


mID represents a sleek end solution to identity, and one that is in fitting with the trend of minimization of the physical with increased emphasis and reliance on digital platforms. At present, the mobile identity remains bound to the physical, being an extension of the credential provisioned into a secure mobile environment (be that within a device’s SE (Secure Element), a TEE (Trusted Execution Environment), or secure backend system). Being a companion, the mobile ID will not function independently, but rather extend and streamline a variety of use cases alongside the physical document. This is expected to remain the case for the foreseeable future, where a shift to mobile-only or a digital first approach is not considered a viable mid-term solution; radical change would be required, not just in terms of user behavior but also from an infrastructure perspective.

However, the widescale ownership of smartphones and their reliability within a network which only continues to grow and improve provides a significant targetable userbase for initial mobile projects to be realized. Additionally, the presence of mIDs in the enterprise space prior to government-to-citizen use has simplified migration to citizen ID as pre-existing standards have already been developed, with the potential to leverage. An example of this is Personal Identity Verification (PIV) credentials used in accessing federally controlled facilities and information systems, where adaptation to a government ID context could be achieved.  Equally, there is synergy for mID with the biometric technology already present in mobile devices which could see use. Mobile ID could provide a secure and modernized system for governments which could improve communication channels, lower operating costs, and generally be more adaptable and future-proof. In essence, a foundation, to a degree, is there and waiting.

That being said, major inhibitors are at play which don’t allow what would seem to be an ideal solution to see widescale adoption. Interoperability and cross-border use remain at the heart of the problem as mIDs must function across multiple regions and jurisdictions, with the solution needing to cater to an array of different hardware and Operating Systems (Oss) from different OEMs. Moreover, the physical document market is considered the norm; building trust in populations to move away from what they are familiar with may prove difficult. Similarly, the storage of credentials would shift towards the hands of giant tech corporations, incurring further trust issues as well as potentially creating tensions from differences of interests between corporations and governments.

Should an Acceleration to Mobile ID be Expected?


As much as mobile’s inhibitors will prevent the shift from the physical to the digital only approach, several factors continue to spur acceleration to mobile ID adoption, where individual states implementing programs could be viewed as the beginning of something bigger within digital citizen identity. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a drive towards contactless systems, where contactless functionality is accommodated within mobile. Furthermore, the global chipset shortage could provide incentive to accelerate mID adoption, used as a bridge to offer a virtual first identity solution and following up with a physical credential when it becomes available. Developments in regulation, for instance the Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS) initiative, is paving the way to overcome some interoperability problems, where such problems will diminish with time and as further progression occurs. Additionally, the accessibility of smart phones, and the improving coverage and quality of internet networks will increase reliability. Likewise, battery-related concerns could be minimized where development in low power Bluetooth or similar technologies is made.

Where individual states and regions are implementing mID for certain credentials, there is a positive trajectory of mobile identities beginning to form. Once mID use as a companion is widespread, there may come a point where the entire userbase of a particular credential has a mobile companion. At this point, it is feasible to assume that the physical could begin to be phased out, where governments move toward a consolidated mobile identity solution. Of course, this is purely speculative, and such developments will not likely be realized for many years, if at all. Nonetheless, an eye to the future should always be maintained and factors spurring mobile growth and the effects on the ID space in general should be considered. Awareness of how mobile IDs fit into the citizen ID ecosystem and understanding the current and future links between the physical and digital are crucial elements in determining future identity product and solution strategies.



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