3GSM - Biometrics to ease CIO's cell phone concerns

Fingerprint sensors could increase security in case of lost mobile phones

A biometric systems vendor has a pitch for CIOs nervous about company executives losing their mobile phones and risking the loss of confidential information.

AuthenTec, a developer of biometric fingerprint technology, wants to address concerns handset manufacturers may have about adding advanced security features to their product by reducing the size, power consumption and cost of its touch-powered sensors.

"Many CIOs would like to put productivity applications on mobile phones but are worried about the handsets being lost or stolen," said Andrew Germano, director of wireless markets at AuthenTec. Biometric sensors could overcome these worries, provided handset makers can deliver the phones in volume at attractive prices, according to Germano.

There are challenges: advanced security technologies are among the many other features competing for space and power in handsets' tiny form factor, Germano said.

AuthenTec has reduced the size of its original fingerprint sensor from around 1.5 centimeters to less than 4 millimeters and lowered the power consumption to 1.8 volts. Further enhancements are in the pipeline.

Cost is another big factor. AuthenTec has been selling its chips to handset makers for around US$3 each but will need to bring the price down even further -- as low as US$1 -- if it hopes to see them deployed on a large scale by major vendors, according to Germano.

The company plans to integrate additional features into its sensors -- for instance Near Field Communication (NFC) capability -- and sell it at the same $3 price. "We would essentially take features that today are on two or three separate chips and integrate them into one for the same price," he said.

AuthenTec sensors already sport a number of features, including fingertip navigation. Users can use a tiny sensor display instead of buttons to scroll through menus or surf the Web.

Germano sees opportunities for biometric fingerprint sensors in phones equipped with NFC technology to provide mobile payment and security services, for enterprise users and consumers alike.

The company has a number of operator customers, including Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics and NTT DoCoMo.

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