India is on the verge of fully embracing the transformations of mobile internet connectivity. Smartphone penetration in the country may stand at just 6% of the population at present, but in the next six to eight years, this could reach as high as 80%.
"That's 500-600 million smartphones, which can cost as little as US$100 in India," says Sanjay Vijayakumar, Co-Founder and CEO of MobME (Mobile Media and Entertainment), an Indian mobile technology company. "That's a lot of people coming into the digital age and, in this digital age, they are going to need a digital identity."
MobME, which Vijayakumar founded with friends in 2006, has partnered with Finnish company Valimo Wireless and Gemalto to produce India's first mobile-signature product. Carriers providing the MobME service will give their customers pecial SIM cards featuring the necessary software. Once registered, users simply enter a four-digit PIN to confirm their identity, giving them access to features such as banking, shopping and eGovernment services.
"Digital identity will help smartphones become that little bit smarter," Vijayakumar says. "With Mobile ID, all you need to do is enter a four-digit number - just like at an ATM - and your identity and signatures are verified."
Similar to the way Facebook users can sign in to external sites using their Facebook profile, MobME's Mobile ID product has the ability to integrate with other websites or mobile applications. Users will be able to log in to a site in a secure and legally binding way and transfer their money to buy a product or service from that site. The interoperable Mobile ID application is loaded onto a highly secure SIM that works in any phone, maximizing the potential number of end users.
"We don't know what developers will be able to achieve with this technology," Vijayakumar says. "Our vision is to build the world's largest ecosystem for developing Mobile ID and mobile signatures."
Lock and key
Like any technology that handles users' money, however, Mobile ID needs to prove its security credentials. It is hosted on the latest-generation SIM cards, which are equipped with security software that is far more advanced than regular SIMs'.
Mobile ID's stringent security, combined with relatively low levels of complexity for the user, means that this technology could break through and change the lives of those who have not yet embraced the digital revolution. "We still have a generation in India that use checks and need to have cash. They are very skeptical about electronic money," Vijayakumar says. "Traditionally, increased security has meant complicated user names and passwords across more and more sites. It's impossible to remember all these logins, and Mobile ID solves this issue."
Alongside banking and payments, digital signatures have great potential for eGovernment services as they help reduce fraud and identity theft. These have the potential to put a national identity card in the pocket of every person who has a mobile phone. It can also be used to digitally sign government documents, a process that is legally binding.
Vijayakumar believes that India has to be ready to embrace digital services like these and join the smartphone revolution. "Back in 2000, no one predicted that India would take on mobiles like it has," he says. "With smartphones, it will be the first time a lot of Indians have owned this kind of computing power. Every industry needs to use this kind of technology if it wants to progress."