Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Back from MWC#1: The time is right for mobile biometric security

My feet have just about recovered from the many miles walked during the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – I even had to dodge the barricades put up to contain the student protesters (I counted twenty protestors and a couple of hundred Police) to congratulate Alan Giles and the team at Fiberlink after picking up a GSMA 2012 Mobile Award for “Best Enterprise Mobile Solution” for their MaaS360 MDM solution. A very worthy winner.

As a GSMA 2012 judge myself, I was honoured to be chosen to judge the "Best Technology Product or Solution for Safeguarding and Empowering Customers". This was won by Cloudmark for their Mobile Messaging Security Suite. 

Global Bilgi for Turkcell Voice Verification
I was very impressed by all of the nominees in this category and was delighted that one of the nominees that made it to the shortlist was from a mobile network operator that had deployed a biometric security solution that supported mobile devices; Turkcell’s Global Bilgi for Turkcell Voice Verification voice biometric service, powered by PerSay’s VocalPassword technology provided by Nuance Communications. The solution uses a biometric speaker verification system that verifies a speaker’s identity using acquired voice samples. Samples of the caller’s voice are converted into voiceprints, or unique algorithms based on the specific characteristics of the voice that are used to authenticate and prove identity of Turkcell customers calling into their call centre. The solution replaces a 4-digit PIN-based authentication solution and has proved to be very successful with a reported four million enrolled voiceprints.[1]

My research at Goode Intelligence into the market for mobile biometric security products and services concluded that voice recognition services would be one of the biometric modalities that would be successful in what are, the pioneering stages of biometric security adoption on smart mobile devices (SMD).

Another technology vendor that has developed a very interesting voice recognition product is the UK-based technology vendor VoiceVault. I was speaking with their Director of Product Marketing recently, Nik Stanbridge, who was starting to see a change in the market with “significant opportunities being turned into contracts”. Both Nik and I agree that we are seeing positive signs of growth in the mobile biometric security market, largely driven by SMDs becoming the “key entry points” for much of our personal and business lives. This trend is being accelerated by mobile voice-based solutions including Apple’s SIRI that according to Stanbridge, makes “people less reluctant / embarrassed at the thought of speaking into a mobile device”.

VoiceVault’s solutions are focussed on identity verification and transaction authorisation for two main use-cases:
  1. On the device itself (phone lock / unlock)
  2. As part of a device-based app’s mechanism for logging onto a website - a high-security replacement for a password

Another vendor that was showcasing their mobile biometric security solutions during MWC was Spanish-based vendor Mobbeel. I have been following their progress for some time now and was pleased to catch up with Rodrigo Sanchez Gonzalez, CTO, and Abraham Holgado Garcia, Research and Development Director, on their stand in the Spanish area of La Fira Courtyard.

Mobbeel are a relatively young company that have become pioneers in the world of mobile biometric security. Their strength is to use the standard features of a modern mobile device; touchscreen, camera and speaker, fast processor, to support a variety of biometric modalities including signature, iris, facial, hand and voice recognition.  Unlike one of the other, much talked about, mobile technologies, Near Field Communication (NFC), their solutions are not reliant on an OEM to embed specific hardware, such as a fingerprint sensor.

I really like this company as they are not just developing ground-breaking technology but developing use-cases and stories to educate the market. Market education is sometimes extremely useful in emerging technologies such as this. Take a look at their video channel to see what I mean.

Just across the courtyard area where Mobbeel were showcasing their technology was the Japanese based OEM, Fujitsu that used MWC to launch a new range of SMDs to the European market. As well as being able to take these devices into the shower or swimming with you (their waterproof capabilities were ably demonstrated by an army of suitable wet-weather attired exhibitors) these quad-core powered mobiles include embedded fingerprint sensors.

Using the same AuthenTec supplied fingerprint sensors that have been powering NFC-based physical payments in Japan through mobile network operator NTT DoCoMO, Fujitsu aims to differentiate its devices from the crowd.

As someone who regularly uses a fingerprint sensor on his Motorola Atrix 4G (another example of an AuthenTec supplied fingerprint sensor) to protect a device from unauthorised access I can definitely see the advantages of such a technology. However, Fujitsu, needs to release APIs and SDKs into the developer community to enable these devices to support other authentication and identification features. This will ensure that this technology becomes a must-have and not a maybe technology.

The time is right for mobile biometric security
One of my roles as MD of Goode Intelligence is to track emerging technologies in mobile security and to predict whether these technologies will succeed and enter the mainstream.

My research into this sector started over one year ago and resulted in the publication of an analyst report in June 2011, “mobile phone security – analysis and forecasts 2011-2015”. In the report I predicted that a biometric groundswell is building for Smart Mobile Devices. The market is currently slow; but pressure is growing.

My subsequent tracking of this market and the buzz that was surrounding this technology at this year’s MWC in Barcelona reconfirms my view that that conditions are ripe for rapid change; for biometrics to move from an ‘interesting concept’ to a 'must have' for all SMDs. 

[1] case study: Turkcell Global Bilgi Nuance VocalPassword™ Deployment Achieves Industry-Leading Adoption Rates (December 2011)

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