Telecom companies can significantly improve their services by sharing or collaborating information among themselves. It is essential that these companies cooperate to manage consumer information and services as collaboration is the key to improved customer experience and innovative services in the industry. In this article, we will take a look at some collaborative industry applications employing innovative blockchain technologies.
Although regulatory authorities are trying to bring CSPs (Communication service providers) together, telecom companies lack a secure and reliable platform or channel for collaboration. Today, with the advent of emerging technologies like blockchain, we can envision multitude of applications by enabling collaboration as new business models will emerge with partnerships and the sharing economy. Emerging technologies promise to improve the telecom regulatory landscape by providing innovative solutions.
Given that the telecom industry and processes tend to involve multiple stakeholders (e.g. telecom companies, infrastructure providers, clearing houses, KYC providers and other 3rd parties) and there are often multiple types of registries and databases/ records required to be maintained, this complex space looks upbeat for adopting advanced technologies. With the capabilities that blockchain and DLT bring, it appears to be a match and multiple applications could be reimagined. In essence, blockchain or DLT could provide a base platform for telecom services, telecom compliance functions, and industry-wide registries. A few potential blockchain applications are discussed below:
UCC (Unsolicited Commercial Communication)
UCC is one of the major issues which industry is trying to grapple with globally. UCC is a commercial communication that a subscriber opts not to receive. Telecom Regulatory is the centralized body managing the commercial communication. There DLT based blockchain application is seen as a solution to overcome problems of subscriber data leak, spam messages, fraud penalization, law violations etc.The current system of registry and preferences is a case where the regulator is involved in the day to day activities and currently does not have traceability, enforceability for violations, etc. The blockchain-based system would envisage that the regulator only enforces regulations, while telecom operators take up the major responsibilities. The overall requirement is to strengthen the whole ecosystem, and to bring all the participants together where exchange of information will be seamless, the customer preference & convenience is taken care of, the processes across systems are streamlined and leads to reduction in fraudulent activities.
Keeping the above requirement in consideration, a DLT solution has been ideated to regulate the current eco-system of commercial communication, which respects consumer’s consent addressing the consumer privacy concerns. It also includes an approach to efficiently store the Consumer Preferences and Consent at their respective registered Access Providers by implementing the concept of Sparse Merkle Trees as a data structure, to store the said preferences and consent. The solution also focuses on ensuring privacy (Subscriber Preference and Consent) across the Telecom Service Providers. Additionally, we have an AI Module that is used to identify an Unregistered Telemarketer (spam messages) and a Reputation AI model to implement an incentivization scheme, which in turn ensures discipline in communication. In addition, as a future enhancement, AI can be employed towards learning- based automatic detection of Consumer Preference.
The components of the proposed DLT based solution are shown in figure 1.
Number portability (NP) is a classic example of how operators across the world depend upon third party NP service provides. NP is achieved through a complex process and every country has taken a specific approach to implementation. Most countries use a centralized database model. Few countries have implemented the distributed database model. The primary challenge in NP is that there are no international standards. In number portability operations, information exchange was possible between CSPs directly or via an intermediary but financial transactions or value exchange was not possible or easy.
From a consumer perspective, their mobile number has become the primary digital asset and identity that they want to retain forever as their digital world transactions depend on it. They do not want to be locked to one telco and must be able to switch operators as they prefer. Hence, it becomes an important service that needs to be enabled by operators and enforced by the national regulatory authorities (NRAs).
With blockchain technology, information and value can be exchanged in a secure and transparent manner while the porting process itself can be simplified, all without an intermediary. By making use of smart contracts, the NP process can become fully automated by enforcing contract terms and service level agreements (SLA) that the CSPs agree between them. This will not only help to complete the porting process faster, but a secure and transparent exchange of value such as prepaid balances, unpaid bill amounts and apportionment of charges or costs between operators as agreed is also possible. Enterprise permissioned blockchain platforms provide the secure and tamper-proof exchange of information between DO (Donor Operator) & RO (Recipient operator) to share KYC details directly with porting out user’s consent. Between DO, RO, regulators and users, the process dependencies can now be monitored in real-time as the process flows and statuses are registered in the ledgers and become fully auditable.
Telecom regulators have already started to look at blockchain as a viable technology for number portability. In 2018, TRAI in India published consultation papers to address number portability issues in India in which blockchain technology was explored. Ofcom in UK announced that they would be exploring blockchain for fixed number portability. Similarly, regulators in other countries must look at blockchain as a collaboration enabler not only for number portability but to onboard multiple inter-operator use cases of value and information exchange by forming a consortium of CSPs in respective countries.
Tower Sharing Management
Today we see the global telecommunication market transform towards a digital, interconnected and shared economy. Telecom infrastructure is one of the prime enabler and also a barrier for the expansion of telecom services. Therefore, sharing of infrastructure by the telecom operators has become the need of hour as operators try to lower their respective investments. The intent of regulators also is to increase the mobile network coverage area within the geography and optimize the utilization of telecommunication infrastructure.
Since it is an activity that involves cooperation between the operators with infrastructure provider (Tower Company or TowerCo), a tower sharing agreement or contract is required. The TowerCo takes over ownership and operation of the passive infrastructure and assumes responsibility for the performance and maintenance. The operator purchases the capacity to use the passive infrastructure from the TowerCo on a usage or fixed capacity basis. The cost associated with re-planning existing networks requires commercial agreement, follow up on operations and tracking expenses as per tower contract. There are many associated challenges in creation, management and adherence to the contract. There are no uniform procedures and policies, and lack of implementation of central policies continue to be a challenge. There are also longer lead-time in contract negotiation that leads to delay in onboarding process. In addition, reconciliation and settlement issues between tower companies & telecom operators is very common due to manual or Excel-based operations.
We envision an enterprise solution based on blockchain that allows telecom operators to collaborate efficiently with tower companies and build better working relationships. With the help of DLT/ blockchain we can achieve:
Mobile roaming allows mobile users to continue to avail their mobile services like voice calls, text messages, and the internet while visiting another country. Roaming extends the telecom coverage of the home operator’s seamless services by a roaming agreement between the mobile user’s home operator and the visited mobile operator. The roaming agreement comprises of the technical and commercial terms & conditions. Roaming agreements are required to be set up with every other operator in the world. Such roaming agreements and intermediaries like clearing houses increase the cost of operations that are eventually passed on to the subscriber. These agreements could be replaced with automated Smart Contracts. Based on the Smart Contract rules, the charges and payment terms & conditions are set.
Roaming settlement is done based on the records maintained by the network providers. Call data records are shared at varying time intervals by the network providers. But, there is always a risk of fraud and disputes from all parties involved, as well as delays and issues in payments. Roaming frauds typically are because of two characteristics:
A blockchain network, where each roaming operator would feed the details of roaming call or data session in almost real-time, could increase the efficiency of the settlement process as well as make a big dent in typical roaming frauds. With blockchain, both the home and visited operators have a better visibility into the subscriber’s usage information. When a mobile user gets on the roaming network, the visited operator determines the user from the home operator via subscriber information exchange. The subscriber is then authenticated on the blockchain network. When a duplicate mobile user attempts to connect, the user can be easily identified and flagged during the authentication phase.
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Prashant Kumar Singh
Blockchain SME, Wipro
Prashant works as Technical Lead in Blockchain CoE, Bangalore. He contributes in solutioning, consulting and client engagements. He has around fouryears of experience in blockchain space. With over seven years of consulting experience, he has worked with management consulting, Telecom and IT companies. Prashant comes from a strong academic background - Gold medalist in MBA from IIT Kanpur and engineering at NIT Jalandhar.