While most of the planet is still trying to figure out what blockchain means and does, the distributed ledger technology is beginning to show up in a telecom setting, where it holds out the promise of cost savings and new revenue streams. A handful of companies have made the shortlist for this year's Leading Lights award for the most innovative blockchain strategy.
The Leading Lights winners, and the identities of this year's Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced online, on August 21, during a special video presentation on www.lightreading.com, one month before the start of the Big 5G Event.
The Colorado-based software company set up its blockchain lab about a year ago, with the idea of exploring new applications for the technology in areas like routing, roaming, and fraud management. Since then, it has teamed up with groups including the Global Leaders' Forum (GLF) and the Global Settlement Carrier Group (GSCG) on the development of a blockchain ecosystem. The ultimate goal, it seems, is to come up with a kind of blockchain hub for service providers and operators.
It's an effort that could eventually end some of the clashes between carriers and service providers over billing invoices and other partnership arrangements, CSG reckons. With a blockchain hub, contracts could live in one location as what CSG calls "a single source of truth." By reducing fraud, data entry costs and invoicing disputes, that could put an end to the disagreements that have dogged parts of the industry.
Since it burst onto the Indian telecom scene in late 2016, Reliance Jio has built a reputation as one of the world's most exciting and technologically advanced operators. Parent company Jio Platforms is now looking to make waves in the blockchain market with the rollout of a new platform last August that allows transactions to be processed across distributed data centers in the Jio network.
The system is based on what Jio calls a vDLT-N (virtual distributed ledger technology network), which is activated across various nodes. It is aimed mainly at supporting transactions that involve multiple stakeholders, especially when they have to share information. Jio says it is also working with Indian regulatory authorities on different use cases for the technology, including spam management and mobile number portability. The operator is also looking into smart energy management across different energy sources at its basestations, and it might use the blockchain system to support mobile banking services. The system is currently operating in the Microsoft Azure cloud, according to the operator.
Blockchain is usually associated (conflated, even) with crypto-currency or token-based retail transactions. Not for Hong Kong's PCCW, whose international wholesale arm is pitching it as a way to automate voice and roaming settlements, as well as data-on-demand lifecycle management, in the wholesale telecom market.
The company says it is preparing to launch a new blockchain platform that will reduce inter-carrier settlement times from weeks to minutes. It has teamed up with Colt Technology Services, another service provider, and a blockchain start-up called Clear on the project. And a proof of concept has already shown how effective blockchain can be in this area, it claims. Tens of thousands of call records were analyzed and settled in just a few minutes, says PCCW. Hundreds of hours of manual work were reduced to seconds of "automated verification and settlements." Most impressively of all, it managed to automate a task that would usually take about 30 employees at each operator about six weeks to accomplish.
A part of China's Alibaba, Whale Cloud has developed a blockchain-based data-sharing platform that allows communications service providers to share data with enterprise customers from sectors such as banking, insurance, and technology. China Unicom already appears to be using the service to support about 1,000 enterprise customers from more than 20 industries, including 74 automotive companies responsible for around 15 million connected cars.
What's so good about the system? Well, it means a user could authorize a financial institution to obtain credit data from China Unicom's platform, says Whale Cloud. That would speed up the process for customers and allow banks to run their background checks much faster, as well. It also provides a new revenue stream for China Unicom through a charge per API call, says the Alibaba subsidiary. Similarly, using the data-sharing platform, a connected car could obtain a user's itinerary via from, say, a concert ticket booked online. Users could be sent reminders or warned about traffic jams if they set off too late.
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading