Blockchain as a Strategy for OSS/BSS and Beyond
Bringing blockchain into the telecom market to enhance OSS and BSS seems to present numerous opportunities, although doing so is still in the early phases.
As the telecommunications industry begins to embrace virtualization, the traditional fixed and physical nature of “what has been” is slowly evolving to “what it can become.” With virtualization, network functions are created and scaled using software-defined technology, shifting the centralization that has been the core of both the network and the service. The next potential option for service providers is to embrace blockchain in other key areas of the business.
Blockchain as a core concept is based on the continuous evolution and growth of specific data records that tie to key business functions within a system or ecosystem. As functions grow in complexity, so do the blocks, all of which become linked together. As a decentralized software platform, blockchain allows different players in the ecosystem to transact directly with one another without any third-party intermediary.
For the telecom service provider, blockchain is still in the early stages of development, but the underlying principles and benefits can be realized quickly. First and foremost is the consistency of data that comes from the ongoing development of a core code set that is consistent across all users. New functions or transactional needs are added to a single, common set of code that creates a consistent layering of software functions. In areas like operations support systems (OSS) and business support systems (BSS) where real-time functionality is critical, the blockchain structure is designed to be virtually fault-tolerant, a critical feature for telecom rating and charging. Since the transactions are more or less standardized around specific usage needs and remain consistent, blockchain users inside or outside the telco data center can trust that the transactions are accurate. It also removes the need for third-party intermediaries, such as banks and governments.
For OSS/BSS processes in the service provider’s back office, blockchain gets pretty interesting. The Blockchain Council, a California-based group comprised of subject experts and blockchain enthusiasts who are evangelizing R&D and highlighting specific use cases, has pointed to opportunities in OSS areas such as device connectivity provisioning and number portability as well as BSS areas like billing and transaction management. The underlying principles of blockchain in each area are to simplify functions, improve efficiency and increase security all at the same time. In an ideal scenario, blockchain can eliminate the need for third-party clearing houses for international transactions, allow a customer’s phone number to ported from one operator’s blockchain to another and reduce fraud by requesting specific permissions, which are then tied to usage consumption, billing and payment.
While it is still very much in its infancy stage in the telecom back office, the future of blockchain shows strong promise, as use cases highlight significant cost and operational benefits. Many large operators have already come together to collaborate. In the APAC region, LG Uplus, Etisalat Group, KT, Telefónica and PLDT joined together to create a Carrier Blockchain Study Group (CBSG) as part of an initiative to develop telecom-specific blockchain initiatives. The top U.S. wireless carriers, like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon announced their group strategy for a Mobile Authentication Taskforce at Mobile World Congress 2018, with details highlighting the next-generation mobile authentication platform using blockchain. Meanwhile, British Telecom has been applying for patents around blockchain technology as the company steps up its investment in R&D in this area. All of these initiatives show that blockchain is not a matter of if, but when.