Jarich: What's a wallet without an ID?

I've been thinking about the concept of "replacement" lately. 

No, I'm not talking about replacing my current cell phone--for that, I'll wait until LTE coverage comes to Charlottesville, Va.  What I've been thinking about is the concept of a mobile device replacing something for me.  It's already swallowed my landline, my MP3 player and my bedside alarm clock.  Now, it seems my wallet is in its sights. 

I say "wallet" and not just my credit cards for a very real reason. As many in the media picked up when covering the recent Google Wallet launch, the search giant--along with many of its would-be competitors--are looking to do more than simply enable mobile payments. They're looking, it's argued, to replace everything in your wallet. Your credit cards. Your loyalty cards. Coupons. Paper receipts. Paper currency. I get the value for consumers like you and I (convenience). I get the value for financial institutions (continued relevance in any future payment regime). I get the value for a Google or Apple (increased relevance and opportunities to sell to you). I even get the value for carriers (network and distribution channel leverage). What I don't get is how anyone can consider the current proposals and offers as a complete wallet replacement when they're still missing a critical component.

That's right folks--I'm talking about a mobile-based ID.

Before you scoff at the notion of integrating your passport or driver's license with your phone, consider the potential benefits.  Just like mobilizing everything else in your wallet, there's the convenience factor for end-users. More importantly, if we're really interested in driving mobile payments, a mobile identification card or driver's license could go a long way towards forcing (or, at least, incenting) mobile wallet adoption--think Isis' plan here in the U.S. to begin with transport partnerships, using a popular anchor application to drive usage ... well, in urban centers.  In a space where competing wallet and commerce solutions risk fragmentation across cards, banks and carriers, the need for ID access to be ubiquitous could force some level of coordination, opening up the market in the way SMS benefitted with cross-carrier interoperability.  And, if you're hoping the leverage the information generated by a mobile wallet for other purposes (like advertising), the ID component only promises to deliver more details about a user's life.

Now that you've begun scoffing, technology and business issues are probably your biggest concerns.  What about security?  What about dead batteries?  What's in it for issuing agencies like your friendly state or federal government?  They're all good questions.  They all have good answers.

With a digital component, security could be much tighter than for traditional plastic cards--this is already being argued for existing mobile wallet solutions. Dead batteries have been painted as the equivalent of leaving your wallet at home, but do all components need to be active? Since August 2007, U.S. passports have used RFID components to house identity information; try though I might, I can't find any passport battery compartment.  The passport example should help to underscore the government rationale: security, efficiency, compliance with international standards, data richness. 

Combined with the costs of any new system, civil liberties concerns over enhanced tracking abilities, and the fact that user concerns around security as well as privacy will be hard to overcome, implementing such a system would be tough.  Perhaps this is why you don't see people talking about the concept much.  That's unfortunate; beyond the lobbying that will be necessary to move it a reality, solutions and use cases will be necessary to ever move this forward

On the topic of mobile replacement, I've personally been thinking about "laptop replacement" over the past month.  In July I'm going on a three-week vacation, preceded directly by a week of work travel.  I don't want to take my laptop.  Still, I'll need to do more than just reply to e-mails and log-in to the occasional conference call. Is a tablet the answer? A phone-dock combo? Just giving up and not worrying so much?  I plan to try each one.  Based on the experience of colleagues, however, I'm not particularly optimistic.  If I can find the time, I'll be doing a little blogging from the field on the experiences (www.velo-blue.com). I'll probably also be tweeting (@pnjarich).  In the meantime, feel free to pass along any tips or suggestions. What's worked for you?  What hasn't?  What should I try?

Peter Jarich is the Service Director leading Current Analysis telecom infrastructure practice. Follow him on Twitter: @pnjarich.