Block chain: Telcos need to get on it now

Lachlan Colquhoun
24 May 2017

When we think of block chain technology, we think of bitcoin and financial industry disruptions. But block chain will also drive major transformations in telecoms.

The rise of fintech and the explosion of digital social media already blurs the traditional lines of corporate responsibility. We in the media love to write about disruptive technology, but the speed and acceleration of tech in today’s businessdrome means that an increasingly large chunk of the tech pie is de facto disruptive.

Ten cents in your WeChat Wallet

The best example of this right now is WeChat, which is both a hugely popular messaging service with 650 million users, but also a mobile payments platform.

Anyone who attends sessions on “digital disruption” at telecoms conferences knows how WeChat encroaches onto many aspects of our smartphone activity.

The ever-evolving product, from Shenzhen-based tech giant Tencent, grafted a fintech empire onto a social network, and those of us who cover telecoms know the growing importance of social as our sector continues to advance and evolve.

Converging on block chain

So let me suggest this: today’s social network is also a fintech, and fintechs are the group most likely to implement and take advantage of the block chain.

Pursue that thought and it becomes clear that block chain will have a major impact on telecoms as well. It’s all converging, and converging fast.

This is no cause for alarm. It’s a major opportunity, and we are already seeing examples of how it might be used.

Leveraging telco savvy

Because telcos are so data-rich-with much information on customers and their identities-they already have a natural advantage in leveraging the Know Your Customer and Anti Money Laundering landscapes which will be a major driver in developing block chain for telco use.

Because a block chain is a huge distributed and shared network of data, disruptors will find it hard to shut the telcos out. They will need the telcos as much as a MVNO relies on its MNO.

In this scenario, telecom operators’ traditional end-to-end ownership of the customer value chain (traditionally seen as a burden, can be: 1) more efficient, and 2) a significant asset.

Block chain is all about authentication, both for people and devices, and who is better than telecoms companies to deliver authentication for third party providers. This gives them a major boost in providing services like fraud management and identity verification.

The future’s so bright, I gotta wear...

Block chain also gives telcos a great opportunity in the world of the IoT, where it can deliver functionality, enhance security, and enable the peer-to-peer connectivity which is at its core.

The technology can also help deliver consolidated apps which can gain access to and start vehicles, open home and office doors, and pay for restaurant bills. Add block chain to the world of 5G, and there is potential for a common platform to deliver seamless connectivity.

Much of the angst in the telecoms world is about fragmentation, as well as new players disrupting the model, thus eroding revenues and the value of investment.

Block chain, implemented creatively in the next generation world of 5G and IoT, has the potential to put telcos (even the old incumbent carriers), right back in the center of the game.

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