Eurobites: Telefónica & IBM Explore the Telco Potential of Blockchain

Also in today's EMEA regional roundup: Ericsson upgrades Telenor's core network; Iliad thrives in Italy but struggles in France; semi-autonomous barges float Nokia's boat.

  • To paraphrase (and indeed misquote) the great Edwin Starr: Blockchain? Huh? What is it good for? Well, the folk at Telefónica are hoping it will be good for them. The Spanish operator has joined forces with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) to collaborate on a project to use blockchain technology to streamline the telco's core business processes, focusing initially on improving the reliability and transparency of information collected by different networks when routing international calls. But looking beyond voice, Telefónica believes the technology can be applied to many other areas of its activity, helping to build a "trustworthy network of peers" that are involved in the delivery of various services. Blockchain is shaping up to be a useful tool to many operators and looks set to play a role in the broader 5G picture in the future. (See PCCW Global: Blockchain Can Automate Inter-Carrier Connections, Colt Exec Bigs Up Blockchain Benefits, Piecing Together the 5G Big Picture and Colt Ramps Its Blockchain Efforts, Explores SDN Federation Use Case.)

  • Nordic operator Telenor Group (Nasdaq: TELN) has chosen Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) to play a major part in the virtualization of its core network functions in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, harnessing the vendor's range of Cloud Core offerings for 5G -- including policy control, virtual IMS and virtual user data consolidation (vUDC) -- across multiple data centers. Telenor is banking on the overhaul leaving it well placed to take advantage of opportunities in the Internet of Things (IoT) sphere.

  • Italy is proving a happy hunting ground for Iliad (Euronext: ILD), which is just as well as its third-quarter results on its home patch, France, were nothing to write home about. Since launching its mobile business in Italy in May, the Group has signed up more than 2.23 million subscribers and generated €55 million (US$62.02 million) in revenues. In France, Iliad's revenues during the first nine months slipped 2.7% year-on-year to €1.98 billion ($2.23 billion), a fall it attributes to fierce competition, the negative impact of higher VAT and a decrease in the number of its subscribers.

  • Move over drones -- barges are back! Yes, the future of goods delivery could be on the canals rather than in the air, at least in the Dutch city of Delft. Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has teamed up with Dell EMC on a smart-city initiative there to use semi-autonomous, hydrogen-powered barges on existing, underused waterways for "last-mile" transportation. In partnership with a number of other organizations, the pair aim to create a "Common Information Space" platform for compute, storage, data management, connectivity, analytics, IoT and blockchain. (That blockchain is getting everywhere, it seems...)

  • In a separate project, Nokia has joined forces with logistics companies ABB and Kalmar to carry out trials using 5G for "smart grid" and harbor automation applications. Key to the project are 5G's URLLC (ultra-reliable low latency communications) qualities. In the first trial, Nokia and ABB set out to demonstrate how URLLC technology can be applied to applications in medium-voltage distribution networks; in the second, the tech was used to advance container yard automation.

  • It's day 2 at the annual AfricaCom event in Cape Town, where more than 14,000 attendees are turning up to find out what's next for the communications and IT sectors across the many emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Check out the news and interviews at our sister site, Connecting Africa.

  • The old "have you tried switching it off and switching it back on again?" maneuver could be a thing of the past, in the minds of the marketing aces at Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM) at least. The operator has launched something it's calling the Smart Workplace, which it describes as an "an IT workstation from the cloud enriched with artificial intelligence." The idea is that this gizmo will allow employees to set themselves up, workplace-wise, without recourse to those notoriously mercurial folks in the IT department. Drawing on Microsoft Cloud technology, Swisscom claims set-up is possible for each user with just a few clicks -- and once you're ready to roll you even have a "Swisscom Butler" at your beck and call. What ho, Jeeves!

  • Germany wants to close the gap on the US and Asia that has built up in the fast-developing field of artificial intelligence. As Reuters reports, the government there has set aside around €3 billion ($3.38 billion) for AI-related research.

  • Salt SA says it has become the first Swiss operator to make 4K TV channels available to all its customers. Salt TV carries more than 380 channels, 180 of them in HD.

    — Paul Rainford, Assistant Editor, Europe, Light Reading

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