Most Britons will have a biometric identity card within nine years, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said today.
She also pledged to shave £1bn off the total cost of the project, mainly by allowing private companies to fingerprint and photograph applicants.
The announcements formed part of a new charm offensive to bolster support for the controversial scheme by persuading Britons to enrol voluntarily.
However, millions of Britons could be forced to apply because of their jobs - including 200,000 airport workers, staff and volunteers at the 2012 Olympics and power station employees.
"The way we are now approaching the scheme will lead to a significantly quicker take-up of its benefits," said Ms Smith.
"One of the strengths of this choice is that now people will be able to get a card when they want, rather than wait until they renew their passport.
"This means that we can now aim to achieve full roll-out by 2017 - two years ahead of previous plans."
She added: "When we publish our next cost report in May I expect to see almost £1bn removed from the headline costs.
"That is a genuine reduction in the costs of the scheme."
In a speech in central London to the think-tank Demos, the Home Secretary promised she would ensure the ID card project was "hard-headed and cost-effective".
She predicted a future in which British people would voluntarily enrol for the cards - which carry their details and fingerprints in a microchip - because doing so would make their lives easier.
For example, checks by the Criminal Records Bureau for teachers, some nurses and carers could be trimmed from four weeks to just four days for card-holders, she added.
Ms Smith said: "It is inconceivable in today's world that someone should not have a single, safe way of securing and verifying their identity."
She added that rather than having to carry a range of utility bills, passport and other documents to prove one's identity, there would be huge benefits to possessing a single ID card.
She went on: "If anything, I think it will actually make it easier to retain your privacy."
The project will begin in November with compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals.
Within three years all new foreign applicants arriving in the UK will have to have a card.
British workers in sensitive jobs, such as airport staff, will have to have the card from 2009.
And Ms Smith announced that young people would be able to apply from 2010.
All new British passports will be entered on the National Identity Register - a database of the fingerprints and other details - from 2011 - 2012.Reuse content