Carriers Back Mobile-Based IDs to Match Google, Facebook Service

The world’s largest wireless carriers today unveiled a mobile-based identification program that rivals services from Google Inc. and Facebook Inc.

After years of saying that Internet companies are unfairly using their networks, the carriers are fighting back for some control by backing a new universal electronic passport to help keep mobile users’ data safer.

The SIM-based passport is supported by companies from China Mobile Ltd to Ooredoo QSC and Orange SA. It is an alternative to existing services such as Facebook’s Connect and Google’s Account, which let users access multiple websites using only their account credentials.

“There are a lot of opportunities today for people to try to steal personal data,” Orange Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard said at a news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We’re coming out with a free, universal and safe solution, as simple for the user as knowing a phone number and a code.”

The Mobile Connect technology will work on phones, tablets, TVs and cash machines. It will use customers’ phone numbers, based on their SIM card, to help them log into their online bank accounts, music sites such as Deezer and e-mail accounts with a single PIN code, the GSMA industry association said in a statement.

Online Moves

Online services are fighting to become indispensable by assisting users in each of their moves online. Carriers say the service companies such as Google have eaten up their network bandwidth without contributing to infrastructure investments, all while phone bills shrank.

“People have become aware and are more careful with the fact that if they connect with Facebook, they’re trading off data for safety,” said Axel Dauchez, Deezer’s CEO. “We’re offering a solution with no trade-off.”

Orange is running pilots in France and plans to deploy the technology across all of its territories in Europe and Africa by 2015.

“This reinforces the role of the SIM, which is good for us,” Gemalto NV CEO Olivier Piou said. “We can build on that.”

Gemalto makes SIM cards for bank cards as well. The company is counting on growth from its secure mobile ID chips as smartphones are used for more sensitive activities, such as payments.

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