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February 14, 2018
An Irish-Russian startup is building the industry's first blockchain-based roaming platform.
The company, BubbleTone, says blockchain can solve roaming's core problems of cost and complexity.
Communications Director Kirill Maskaev says roaming is expensive for operators, especially the small to midsized ones.
"You have to pay up to $10 million, you have to contract with hundreds of operators," he said. "If you want to make connectivity global, it takes about three years in negotiations."
Intermediary companies can simplify the process but are also quite costly.
Reconciling dozens of different currencies further complicates the process.
It's a complex and expensive ecosystem, Maskaev says.
"If you have a few subs, like in countries in Africa, and you want to partner with global operators, they will charge you more, because you are not bringing many customers. They are locked into their own region.
"Direct connection would solve a lot of these problems."
Bubbletone's founder, Russian entrepreneur Oleg Pravdin, also owns a small European MVNO, Allo Incognito. Frustrated by the barriers to roaming, he created Bubbletone to work on a blockchain platform based on the Graphene engine.
It's about 80% complete and the company plans to show it at MWC in Barcelona later this month.
The strengths of blockchain, a distributed open ledger, are its simplicity and security, Maskaev says. "Applied to roaming it can massively simplify the business process and also ensure end-user authentication."
Mobile operators can publish their tariff plans as smart contracts, visible to all operators and subscribers.
For users, it means simply downloading a mobile profile onto the SIM card and choosing the preferred roaming plan.
But blockchain also brings different business and transaction models.
"Once you have the direct connection from subscriber, and subscribers are able to authenticate on the network with digital IDs, it becomes a distribution network," Maskaev says.
"You can market any services that can be delivered."
That's the business model Bubbletone has in mind. It has already found a partner in an English language learning system looking to break in to markets like Turkey and China.
Bubbletone won't charge operators for getting onto its roaming platform, Maskaev said. "We will get revenue from transaction fees -- very small fees from transactions on the network.” The company is also looking at other digital services such as music subscriptions.
Bubbletone is working with a major SIM card manufacturer and, according to Maskaev, has caught the attention of one or two large operators.
It is aiming for an ICO in March, with the goal of raising up to 35,000 Ether (around $31 million, at current prices).
If it meets its target, it will deploy the roaming service with network operators.
"If we can raise more funds we will then offer services from service provider partners."
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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