Technology continues to be our primary means to connect with friends, family and colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic, and telcos are part of the critical infrastructure that has enabled this change.

However, even if our online activity has grown as well as our use of telecommunications, there are some areas where telcos are suffering.
Many of the established telecommunications firms have a big retail infrastructure that is purpose-built to onboard new users in stores, but the retail sector has been adversely impacted by global lockdowns. 
T-Mobile said in March 2020 that it would close about 80% of its stores, while Verizon announced around the same time that it would close its stores on Sundays, reduce store hours on other days, and limit the number of employees and customers in those stores. Closures like this obviously impact their ability to effectively expand their user base. Adding insult to injury, some operators often cannot offer essential services to new customers since they do not have online onboarding capability for identity verification.
How Telcos Can Onboard Customers Remotely 
In many countries, SIM registration is required whenever a new SIM card is provided to a customer. In this case, identity verification through a government-issued photo ID is mandated for each new prepaid contract to thwart money laundering.
Usually this identity verification step is completed in person, but under COVID-19 constraints, this is often not possible.
By enabling online identity verification, telcos could onboard new users online, without the currently mandatory requirement for an in-person verification. But even after COVID-19 lockdowns are lifted, online identity verification can help telcos with the SIM registration process and better protect the accounts of existing users.
Onboard New Customers at More Locations and in Different Ways
Instead of selling and registering a new SIM card exclusively at a telco retail shop, telcos should also sell SIM cards at kiosks and through third-party points of sale and enable customers to verify their identity online and activate the new SIM card remotely — see how Singtel does it
The benefit of this approach is that the telco’s onboarding capabilities are not limited by their retail infrastructure, and a telco with less than 100 retail outlets could sell SIM cards through thousands of third-party retail locations (e.g., grocery stores, gas stations) or via online SIM distribution. It’s a simple and practical way to considerably boost the telco’s reach.
In airports and other locations with a high tourist presence, there is the need to sell SIM cards 24/7 via unattended kiosks —here’s how Wavetec does it.
In this case, a tourist could purchase the SIM card at an airport kiosk and later register the SIM remotely through a simple online identity verification process.
New 4G Gadgets & Services Increase the Need for Remote Sign-up
GPS trackers and other IoT devices require 4G network connectivity and services, and some telcos are selling them directly to consumers.
Whether these devices are bought at a retail outlet or online, they come with a new SIM card that needs to be registered. In this case, the user can verify their identity online using a laptop or smartphone to activate the SIM and immediately start using the new gadget.
The eSIM Revolution
The latest technical development in SIM cards is the eSIM, a digital SIM that has been embedded into the latest generation of Google and Apple phones and cannot be removed from the device.
With eSIMs there are a couple of interesting use cases for online identity verification. In one case, the remote user wants to switch service providers. But, identity verification may also be warranted if the user is travelling abroad and wants to connect temporarily to a local network to avoid roaming charges.
In either case, online identity verification allows users to register the eSIM embedded in their phones remotely, without the need to visit a retail location.
Oh, the Places We Can Go
Consumers are taking online service usage to a new level due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are more keen to favor online options (ordering grocery deliveries instead of shopping, talking to their doctor via virtual visit instead of an in-person appointment) and are looking for ways to manage accounts remotely. Online identity verification enables telcos to securely and confidently onboard more users without the need of a visit to a retail store. It allows them to broaden their global customer base and to be more flexible in the services they offer. Telcos that embrace this change as part of their own digital transformation efforts can differentiate their service by delivering a better customer service and reaching new segments of customers that have historically been beyond their reach.   
Author bio:
Roberto Colecchia, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Jumio. Roberto has more than two decades of product marketing and engineering experience.