Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier explores blockchain opportunities
It is the nature of telecommunications that operators conduct a large number of business transactions with other industry players. Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier is no exception.
In the international roaming area alone, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier has inter-operator agreements with more than 600 other mobile businesses. And yet with all the advances in technologies, agreements between carriers are often still carried out manually, which is time consuming and inefficient. It also leads to errors, slow dispute resolution, long payment cycles and exposure to fraud.
The Answer is Blockchain & Smart Contracts
Needless to say, the market requires more flexibility, creativity, efficiency, and innovation in the realm of inter-operator transactions. This is especially evident when taking into account the growing demands of current and upcoming technologies such as NB-IoT, LTE-M, VoLTE, ViLTE, 5G, big data, and AI. These will bring a plethora of new services that will find their way into contracts. They will also need to be monitored and tracked as well as settled and billed. Smarter automation is clearly needed.
To mitigate existing contractual difficulties, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier has been working to exploit the potential of blockchain and smart contracts. Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology (DLT) that stores transactional data such as pricing information, call data records (CDRs) or other volume information on distributed ledgers not owned by a single entity. In other words: DLT technology creates trust between untrusted parties by creating one immutable source of truth. Automation of commercial interactions is possible using smart contracts on DLTs, by automatically enforcing adherence to the contract as programmed.
To take advantage of the benefits of blockchain, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier is currently investigating and testing its use in three of its business sectors: Access & Transport Services, Commercial Roaming and Voice Termination.
Access & Transport Services
The Access & Transport Services unit of Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier provides highly secure data transport as well as cloud resources to safely connect customers’ global sites. The lifecycle of its services involves several steps, ranging from the initial customer inquiry to pre-sales, sales, ordering, provisioning, operations, maintenance, billing, reconciliation and settlement. Yet, many of the aforementioned processes require a considerable amount of manual labor. That starts with a local carrier asking for a quote via email, which entails the creation of customized spreadsheets and countless back and forth communication. Once delivered, the services need to be monitored, billed and settled. Here, a combination of using APIs between carriers and using blockchain in combination with smart contracts has a lot of potential to speed up the delivery of the services by automating the backend.
Commercial Roaming Services
Arranging commercial roaming discount agreements is a complex matter, especially when an extremely large number of agreements are concerned, as is the case for Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier. They each require negotiation, contracting, implementation, maintenance, as well as settlement and billing. And those agreements are usually re-negotiated every year, starting the cycle again from the very beginning. Here too,
a significant amount of work is done manually, making the procedure prone to errors and resulting in the slow determination of disputes. Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier is running several “proofs-of-concepts” and “minimum-viable-products” aiming at automating the settlement of the roaming discount agreements after the end of the term.
Although ICT service providers have exchanged voice traffic for many years, the billing and settlement process remains largely unchanged with much manual effort spent on handling contentions. The complexity of the current environment also creates new opportunities for fraud. In addition, the international voice market is hampered by several issues, including the need to detect the fraudulent use of services, verify Caller Line Identity (CLI), or conform to new legal mandates such as Origin Based Routing. Furthermore, there are discrepancies in enforcement which lead to time-lags in payment and final settlement.
Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier has played an early and active part within the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF) blockchain working group, which is called the ‘Communications Business Automation Network’ (CBAN). The aim is to use blockchain technology to manage contract, agreement, settlement, payment and dispute processes. The group also works toward ensuring interoperability of different blockchain protocols and the development of industry standards. In the end, the idea is to create a solution that is open to all ICT and technology providers. However, in order to succeed on a wider basis, it requires high acceptance within the industry.
Providing a significant core number of operators are CBAN’s founding members, which consist of ten of the world’s largest wholesale carriers. They are A1 Telekom Austria, BTS, Colt Technology Services, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier, IDT, Orange, PCCW Global, Tata Communications, Telefónica International Wholesale Services, and Telstra. However, CBAN intends to allow every willing ICT service provider access to the solution by rendering it an open network.
At present, in the roaming area, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier is actively examining a minimum viable product that runs on a joint platform with three other network operators – T-Mobile US, Telefonica and Orange – as well as the GSM Association. This solution has been developed together with Telekom Innovation Laboratories, with software based on Hyperledger Fabric. Plans are to open-source the code, making it free-to-use by other consortia, telcos or developers.
Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier recognizes the vast potential benefits of blockchain and intends to move forward with this technology as quickly as possible. It will reduce complexity and boost security of inter-operator agreements by enabling completely transparent views of agreements that can’t be falsified, thus reducing conflicts and allowing faster operations. All adding up to increased revenue and enhanced customer experience. Factors that grow in importance in today’s fast-moving telco marketplace.