Biometrics in Asia yet to hit sweet spot?

Current deployment is largely in the area of e-passports and identity cards, but industry observers point to an imminent acceleration in take-up.

The outlook for biometrics is rosy in Asia but challenges in the deployment of the technology need to be overcome before mainstream adoption takes place, according to industry observers in the region.

Navin Rajendra, senior research analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, told ZDNet Asia that the region's market for biometric technology "has seen a slow and steady growth". Biometrics, he said in an e-mail, has been applied to a variety of applications such as banking, e-passport, consumer electronics and enterprise security.

"Although the rate of adoption has not been as high as previously anticipated, the entry of biometrics across these applications is just an indication for the pending high growth to take place soon," noted Rajendra.

Rajendra pointed out that the Asia-Pacific region has shown "great potential" for government identity and e-passport programs. With full-scale implementation of such projects, biometrics would see a growth in other applications as well," he added.

E-passport uptake is ongoing in the region, reported Hewlett-Packard. HP's public sector sales director for Asia-Pacific and Japan Tan Poh-Chuan said the company is working with authorities in South Korea and Taiwan to roll out biometric passports.

According to Mike Weber, Asia-Pacific director for Enterprise Security Initiative at Unisys, momentum for biometric deployment is increasing, from "the level of interest in trialing and implementing biometric solutions" in both the public and commercial sectors.

On the commercial front, the financial services industry is one of the verticals tapping on biometrics.

Abhishek Kumar, senior research analyst at IDC-subsidiary Financial Insights, noted that there has been "a lot of push" by the financial services industry in implementing biometrics at the retail banking level. Over the last two years, banks in Australia, India, Indonesia and Singapore have made plans or carried out such implementations.

However, many of the biometric initiatives are still in the pilot phases as the logistics of such endeavors are "quite complex", said Kumar. It is not uncommon for financial institutions in more developed countries to implement biometrics for physical security purposes in data centers and core technology centers, he added.

Industry observers say, however, that obstacles are still in the way for biometrics to go mainstream.

Frost & Sullivan's Rajendra said lack of standards and high implementation costs still hinder deployment of biometrics. Standardization of the technology is in progress, he noted.

"Industry participants are realizing the benefits of biometrics and it is only a matter of time before the benefits of biometrics are able to outweigh the costs involved in implementation," said Rajendra. "Currently, privacy issues are also a concern in Europe and North America, while in Asia, privacy issues have not been found to be a major deterrent."

Financial Insights' Abhishek also expressed concern at the lack of standards, particularly for biometric authentication algorithms and devices. "As these algorithms are often patented by vendors, financial institutions are forced to heavily rely on them. As seen with Citibank Singapore, this reliance can often lead to negative results."

Trust is another issue, said Unisys' Weber.

"Consumers have shown they want new and convenient services, but that they also expect security and privacy as a fundamental part of any service requiring them to provide personal information," Weber pointed out. "Misuse or theft of personal information remains the area or security with the greatest level of concern across all countries where the Unisys Security Index [is conducted]."

Organizations that offer or intend to offer customers services that utilize biometric identifiers, should seek to address security concerns in order to create trust, he added.

"Ultimately, outside public sector security uses, the adoption of biometric technologies will be driven by the value of the services they deliver to the consumer, rather than by the technologies themselves. And this adoption must be built on a platform of trust with regards to security and privacy," said Weber.