U.S. operators are MIA in the GSMA's new Mobile Connect universal login program

BARCELONA, Spain--The GSMA announced a new mobile identification program the group said will allow users to use their phone's SIM card and a personal PIN number to log on to any participating service. The goal, the association said, is to create a universal identification system that would eliminate the need for users to remember the passwords they need to access every online service they use.

Although the GSMA obtained voices of support from the likes of China Mobile, China Telecom, Etisalat, KDDI, Orange, Tata, Telefonica, Telenor, Telstra and VimpelCom, no U.S. operator was listed as supporting the effort. The absence of U.S. support isn't completely surprising; U.S. operators have both supported and abstained from various GSMA efforts, including the group's now-shuttered Wholesale Applications Community program, an effort designed to streamline mobile software development and cross-operator distribution.

Supporters of the GSMA's new program, dubbed Mobile Connect, predicted that additional carriers will sign on in the future. "I'm sure that in a very short amount of time we'll have a lot more," said Stephane Richard, CEO of Europe's Orange. Of those operators voicing support for Mobile Connect, only Orange and Ooredoo in Southeast Asia promised to launch commercial Mobile Connect services, likely next year. The GSMA also announced a test of the service with Orange in Barcelona, for customers of the Catalan Personal Health Record service to access their accounts.

The GSMA said its new Mobile Connect service will work across any wireless network technology and any device with a SIM card, including phones, tablets and PCs. The association said the service will use the OpenID Connect protocol.

At a press conference here at the Mobile World Congress trade show to announce the initiative, supporters noted that carriers including KDDI and Telenor already offer ID services, but that the GSMA Mobile Connect program will standardize the service and will be available for free to any carrier or company that wishes to use the technology. The goal, supporters explained, is not to make money from the Mobile Connect program but to allow users to simply and easily log onto a variety of Internet services by using just their phone and one PIN number. Mobile Connect, the GSMA said, is more secure for a user than using the same password for each online service, and easier to use than attempting to remember a different password for every service online. Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA, said that Mobile Connect would be secure enough that it could support digital signatures for legally binding documents, thus creating a wide range of applications for the technology.

Aside from wireless carriers supporting the program, content providers Dailymotion and Deezer said they will implement Mobile Connect-based logins. And SIM card vendors Oberthur, Giesecke & Devrient and Gemalto promised to support the program. Indeed, Gemalto CEO Olivier Piou promised that at some point in the near future the company would embed the 5 KB Mobile Connect technology onto every new SIM card it sells; Gemalto produces 2 billion SIM cards a year.

Although Mobile Connect supporters predicted the program would generate a wide range of support, the GSMA's track record with collaborative programs is mixed. The association in 2010 announced more than two dozen operators and manufacturers, including Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and Sprint (NYSE:S), joined forces to launch the WAC, vowing to unite the fragmented mobile marketplace by giving developers the tools to write software that can be deployed across multiple operating systems, handsets and carrier networks. But the group folded the WAC back into the GSMA in 2012 and sold the WAC's technology assets to Apigee.

Further, this isn't the first attempt at a universal login system; Microsoft in the early 2000s attempted a single-sign on program called Passport that eventually faded away. And other companies are offering their own login systems--Facebook, a relatively new member of the GSMA, offers its Facebook Connect as a universal sign on. Facebook was noticeably absent from the GSMA's Mobile Connect announcement, despite the fact that the GSMA announced its new Mobile Connect program hours before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg provided a keynote address at the GSMA's MWC event.

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