Over the past year, mainstream giants have taken steps to incorporate blockchain technology across multiple sectors. These giants include JPMorgan Chase, Nestle, Walmart and many others. In the telecom space specifically, AT&T and T-Mobile are both working with the technology in various capacities.
Blockchain has made a name for itself as the technology underpinning bitcoin, allowing the transfer of value without middlemen. The work of these telecom giants shows that what enterprises think of as “value” is much bigger than just currency alone.
Supply Chain And Blockchain: Common But Applicable
Internally, AT&T Inc., as a telecom player, is working toward incorporating blockchain technology for its own supply chain in regards to handsets (phones), AT&T vice-president of strategic alliances Andy Daudelin explained to me in an April 29, 2019 interview. This includes handset returns, upgrades and other activities seen on the supply chain, he said. If a customer's phone breaks or malfunctions and the customer needs to be sent a new phone, or have their phone repaired, the actions and data associated are part of an intricate supply chain.
"AT&T’s supply chain is collaborating on a blockchain solution with a major handset OEM [original equipment manufacturer] and a handset remanufacturing supplier," Daudelin noted in a follow-up email on June 4. "The solution will ensure that only authentic, certified parts are used in the device remanufacturing process," Daudelin explained. Adding blockchain to the mix also allows for better "traceability of components used in remanufactured devices," he added.
Adding Security And Transparency
On the security front, AT&T Inc. is in the process of growing its "Internet of Things [IoT] presence and solutions," with the intention to involve smart contracts in the mix, Karthik Swarnam, vice president of information security at AT&T said in an April 29, 2019 interview.
Swarnam mentioned looking toward blockchain application in the area of "verification of device identity." He also noted "exploring use cases around tamper evidence on software, as well as effects of malware," for internal usage at AT&T Inc. at the time of the April 29 interview. Corrupted or infected software has the ability to negatively affect those associated with such software. Users may download software that looks legitimate, normal and unaltered but, under the hood, actually has undergone manipulation. Swarnam noted blockchain involvement in analyzing the integrity of such software. He described "checking on the checksums" for authentication, and the "ability to store the checksums on a blockchain, where, at the time of use, you could go ahead and check and compare and verify whether you can trust that piece of code, trust that piece of software, or not."
Blockchain application in tampering is also in its early stages, Swarnam confirmed to me via email on June 4, 2019. "We are in the proof of concept phase for a blockchain application in the area of software tampering evidence," he stated.
Suite Of Blockchain Solutions
Additionally, AT&T Inc. has "a suite of blockchain solutions" available to enterprise customers, according to its website. AT&T Inc. is working with partners IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the process, Daudelin said.
"What we do there is deliver your traditional blockchain solution," using technology from the mentioned partners, Daudelin said. "What we add to that is we'll customize it and write the code specific to that use case, and we'll add to that our network and IoT [Internet of Things] capabilities," he noted. IoT is a great augment to traditional blockchain solutions because it provides the automation around data collection and feeding the data in, and also the ability to monitor the environmentals."
Giving an example, Daudelin mentioned a bottling company AT&T Inc. worked with to add notable specifics and clarity to that company's supply chain, utilizing "IoT sensing" for its bottles.
"So that's what we do in our go-to-market," Daudelin said, referencing AT&T's suite of solutions. He added that AT&T Inc. is responsible for the planning, designing and deploying stages, while its partners provide other necessary components. "We work with our partners, like the cloud providers I mentioned, to use their cloud blockchain technology, and then we have consultants that, during the deploy part, also write code that can customize the solution," he explained.
On May 23, AT&T also announced the ability for customers to pay their online bills with bitcoin, via bitcoin payment service BitPay, according to an AT&T statement.
AT&T Inc.'s View On Blockchain
Blockchain is a new technology, so many companies are still developing their stance on it.
Referencing AT&T's view on the importance of blockchain in general, Daudelin said,
As our world moves from highly centralized hierarchical processes, to very decentralized processes, blockchain enables companies to deploy solutions that remain highly secure and that you can count on them in this very decentralized decision making world."
Telecom Industry Growth Ahead
On a worldwide scale, blockchain involvement in the telecom space looks primed to see rapid expansion and growth, according to a March 2019 report from Infoholic Research. "The global blockchain in telecom market is expected to witness a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 77.9% to reach revenue of $1.37 billion by 2024," the report stated.
Another big player in the telecom space, T-Mobile, is also looking toward blockchain application in several facets. Responding to a question on if the company sees blockchain as important, T-Mobile executive vice-president and CIO Cody Sanford said to me via email on April 24:
T-Mobile is excited about the potential blockchain technology offers to improve security, reduce costs, and eliminate pain points for our business and customers. Identity and Access Management is a great example of where we are seeing gains in this space, and we are working with standards bodies and the open source community to develop self-sovereign identity solutions based on blockchain that can dramatically change the way people interact with information."
The telecom player has been working toward blockchain utilization in multiple areas, such as its "NEXT Identity Project," Sanford said. "This is a private blockchain solution that we’re developing in partnership with the open source community to improve the way we manage permissions for our employees and the auditing and governance around that." The project has its sights set on "its 1.0 milestone and moving into production" in 2019, Sandford said.
Sanford also noted working with international partners to leverage blockchain technology for improvement in the area of mobile network roaming.
T-Mobile is partnered with the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, the Hyperledger Project and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), as well as is one of the founding members of the Cascadia Blockchain Council, Sanford detailed.
Applying Blockchain To Emerging Tech
The terms 5G and IoT have seen increasing usage in recent days. Sanford explained blockchain as an important piece of the puzzle in 5G and IoT service automation and security. "We’ve been exploring how blockchain smart contracts can allow us to implement new decentralized security models that operate at the edge for added security," Sanford said.
The T-Mobile CIO also noted the company recognizes further blockchain possibilities in the areas of "loyalty, advertising and content management" on the customer-facing front. "There is an opportunity to connect T-Mobile customers with more personalized content in new ways that leverage the cryptographic proof and near real-time settlement available from blockchain," he explained.
With new technological advancement often comes hesitation, skepticism and concern. T-Mobile is aware that risks can also accompany such new advancement, Sanford explained.
Like all new emerging technologies, there are risks involved, but that’s why we are focused on working with the broader community to develop open standards and tools that address these issues. A few examples of blockchain challenges that we’re either closely tracking or working on addressing include key management, the Oracle Problem, next-generation consensus and network throughput performance."
As with most new technologies, the future is the best indicator when it comes to gauging success. Blockchain is hot in the telecom space currently, seemingly offering many benefits and advancements. Only time will tell, however, if the technology will be a staple for the industry in the future.