Russians will be able to issue eSIM using biometrics

On June 1, amendments to the Law “On Communications” entered into force in Russia, allowing the use of the Unified Biometric System (UBS) for remote loading of eSIM into smartphones. Already yesterday Tele2 announced the start of eSIM connections with subscriber identification through the EBS. The user connected to the EBS must download the Tele2 application to the smartphone supporting electronic SIM cards, select the number and tariff download in the menu and go through the identification by looking at the camera and calling the proposed set of numbers into the microphone – the connection will take place in a few minutes, the Tele2 press service explains … How many eSIMs are planned to be remotely activated in the coming year, the company does not comment.

Tele2 was the first among Russian operators to start testing eSIM in the summer of 2019.But there were no laws regulating the remote connection of subscribers, and therefore the subscriber had to come to the communication salon with a passport, buy an ordinary SIM card and write an application for its transfer to a virtual one. How many eSIMs were activated in this way, the company does not say; a source close to her claims that in total they managed to sell about 70,000 eSIMs.

EBS was launched in 2018, its operator is Rostelecom, which owns Tele2. The system accumulates biometric data of Russian citizens – “voice and face”, as the system itself defines. It is assumed that with the help of the EBS, a person who has passed biometrics will be able to remotely verify their identity when making financial transactions, making purchases, receiving government services, etc. According to a company representative, by the end of May 2021, about 200,000 users were registered in the EBS. For comparison: according to AC&M Consulting, 92 million SIM cards were sold in Russia in 2020. “Already this year, the number of accounts in the EBS may grow many times over – this will be facilitated by the projects of the joint venture between Rostelecom and Sberbank, created in April, to develop and implement identification technologies,” the company representative hopes.

The collection of biometrics for the EBS is carried out by authorized banks – now there are 232 of them. The service of user identification through the EBS is paid, Rostelecom does not disclose its prices, its representative notes that the price depends on the tariff chosen by a particular customer and an individual contract with him. “Calculations of the cost of calls from mobile operators to the EBS show that user identification can cost more than 70 rubles,” notes a person familiar with the managers of several cellular companies.

The amendments to the Law “On Communications” that have come into force provide for other methods of remote identification of users. But Vedomosti’s interlocutors from the communications industry are unhappy: “200,000 entries in the EBS are nothing. The enhanced qualified electronic signatures mentioned in the amendments, which can also be used to identify themselves in Russia, have been issued in general several tens of thousands. Obtaining such a signature costs about 1,500 rubles. ” Remote identification is now available as a result of a minimal proportion of Russian residents.

It would be much more promising to use identification through operator applications connected to the Unified Identification and Authentication System (ESIA, known to users as “Gosuslugi”), the source of Vedomosti believes: “There are already about 80 million accounts there.” True, the law provides for the identification of the subscriber with the help of the ESIA, but still with the use of an enhanced unqualified electronic signature. It is planned that in the future the user will be able to get it in his personal account on “Gosuslugi”. “But it is not yet clear how correctly such a signature will work with operators’ information systems, the application through which its functionality will be implemented has not yet entered the market, now operators are discussing with its developers,” the source says.

The EBS has really low penetration, and besides, there is a possibility of compromising biometric data by fraudsters, a source in one of the cellular companies believes.

“The low popularity of the EBS is largely due to the fact that there are practically no financial and public services, for which one cannot do without it – some of them can be obtained through State Services, some through mobile banking applications,” says the CEO of Telecom Daily Denis Kuskov. – In addition, many potential users are deterred from registering in the EBS by fears associated with possible data leaks and the use of biometric information to withdraw money from bank accounts, obtain loans, etc. Such fears are well founded – everyone is well aware that compliance with the law on personal data in Russia is lame on both legs. ” According to Kuskov, the ability to remotely buy eSIM will not contribute much to the growth of the EBS’s popularity: “Sales of SIM cards in Russia are gradually decreasing, there is no increased demand for new ones.”

Russia now uses 5.6 million smartphones that support eSIM – about 8% of all smart phones used in Russia, says Eldar Murtazin, a leading analyst at Mobile Research Group. According to him, during various tests in 2019-2021. operators have already provided subscribers with about 1 million eSIMs. “Even now the audience of users of this technology is much larger than the audience of the EBS, its inclusion in the cellular communication ecosystem is unlikely to somehow affect the demand for eSIM and the distribution of subscribers between mobile operators.”

“We are studying the peculiarities of the functioning of the EBS and are in a dialogue with the Ministry of Digital Industry,” a representative of MTS commented on the new rules for remote identification. Megafon and VimpelCom declined to comment.



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