Recent years have seen the mobile landscape change beyond recognition. Traditional voice and messaging services continue to fight a losing battle against OTT service providers such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, and operators everywhere are preparing to meet the demands for the superfast, high bandwidth capabilities of 5G. Customers now expect a real time, frictionless mobile experience, and operators must deliver this, or lose out to their competitors.
A small but growing number of operators are therefore looking toward blockchain as a means of digitising their business processes.
Originally designed to support the cryptocurrency community, blockchain has become regarded as a key enabling technology for digital businesses, and organisations across a range of industries are currently exploring ways in which it can be applied to their own specific use cases. Such is the level of interest in blockchain that IDC forecast worldwide spending on the technology could reach more than $2 billion by the end of 2018, more than double the amount invested in the previous year.
During the last couple of years, a number of mobile players including Orange, Verizon and Telstra have invested in blockchain-related projects, prototypes and frameworks. Others, including AT&T and BT, have filed multiple patents relating to the application of blockchain technology in telecoms. Indeed, a recent survey carried out by IBM reports that more than a third of operators are either considering or are already actively engaged with blockchain, and some analysts predict that blockchain deployment in the telecoms sector could be worth over US$1 billion within the next five years.
In a highly competitive environment, in which customer experience is everything, these figures could be further buoyed by the results of a Proof of Concept (PoC) study which recently demonstrated how the technology can improve the speed of product development for operators.
Transparent and tamper-proof
A decentralised, distributed ledger technology, blockchain uses algorithms and strong encryption to record and store transactions between two users on the same network in a secure, permanent and verifiable way. By certifying and timestamping data relating to each translation, and saving it in a block, it enables assets, contracts and information to be digitised and stored in a manner that is both transparent and tamper-proof. This, therefore, makes it ideal for use in cases where information sharing, visibility and trust is of paramount importance.
A court case in India, for example, recently heard how defendants’ call data recordings (CDRs), used by law enforcement agencies as evidence, may have been tampered with, unduly prejudicing the case. However, publishing CDR information on a private blockchain between mobile operators, law enforcement agencies and courts would have made it immutable; accusations of tampering would therefore be baseless and unnecessary.
For mobile operators, blockchain’s information sharing capabilities can be utilised in improving the efficiencies and time to market key to enabling them to launch products faster and remain competitive. The processes in the product development cycle that could be improved by reducing information hand-offs can be digitised on a blockchain platform, for example. Smart contracts will then manage how data is stored on the blockchain, while distributed apps, or Dapps, will automatically run the business processes themselves, thereby improving overall efficiency.
Proof that blockchain speeds product development
Earlier in the year, a collaboration that included the Digital Supply Chain Institute (DSCI), an independent not-for-profit research organisation investigated how blockchain could be used to enhance software product development and improve DevOps.
Implementing a secure DevOps function, in which developers work together with an organisation’s operations and QA teams to facilitate a continuous software delivery pipeline, can present some unique challenges. Managing workflows across large, diverse and geographically-dispersed teams, for example, requires seamless collaboration across disparate environments in which human developers work together with automated processes, in a symbiotic relationship.
In order to address this, the team designed and developed a single blockchain-based system with the aim of facilitating trusted product development, increasing developer efficiency, and delivering increased transparency.
In a series of PoC projects that ran over six months, this blockchain-enabled approach was seen to improve development cycle time by 34 percent, increase productivity by 29 percent, and improve quality by 11 percent.
Looking to the future
PoC projects demonstrate the improved efficiencies that blockchain technology can offer, efficiencies that the mobile market in particular currently needs, especially with regard to product development.
The OTT invasion was challenging; the demands of 5G will be unforgiving. To meet these demands, and deliver the best possible customer experience in an increasingly competitive environment, it is essential that mobile operators now embrace technologies such as blockchain.
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