Orange and MTS in successful trial of IBM/Syniverse blockchain wholesale system

09 May 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Syniverse and IBM say they are to market a blockchain system after a successful trial of wholesale billing and mobile roaming with Orange and Russian operator MTS.

The companies say they plan to go live with a production version later this year or early in 2020.

“The intent is to go to market together,” Utpal Mangla, Toronto-based blockchain partner at IBM, told Capacity. “It will be a joint effort.”

The technology can be extended to other services, including enterprise and media, said Dennis Meurs, general manager of transaction and clearing services at Syniverse in Luxembourg.

This is the latest in a number of blockchain approaches to complex challenges in telecoms – particularly in wholesale settlement. One of the most prominent is being championed by the International Telecoms Week Global Leaders Forum (GLF), which has run proofs of concept for wholesale voice settlements, starting with Colt and PCCW Global and more recently expanded to include other companies.

In the proof of concept with Orange and MTS, Syniverse and IBM chose an open-source blockchain approach because existing roaming systems are becoming too complex.

They were designed to handle the exchange of voice and data traffic between a limited number of mobile operators. “It’s a very cumbersome process,” Meurs told Capacity.

But the advent of machine-to-machine (M2M), the internet of things (IoT) and 5G mobile will add to the complexity. The blockchain project will allow companies to do “not just roaming but wholesale, enterprise and media services”, he said.

“A cumbersome process with about 1,200 companies” will need to be expanded to cater “for millions” once 5G-based enterprise and IoT services emerge.

Orange and MTS each connected at group level and at the level of one affiliate each, said Meurs, though he would not identify which subsidiary was involved. The operators “provided a combination of technology and operational people”. The companies “were extremely excited” about the proof of concept.

Mangla said that IBM believes “this is a key defining industry play. We believe this will transform the future of clearing and settlement.”

The blockchain approach “provides operational efficiency and can generate additional revenue from additional use cases”. The IBM and Syniverse executives were unwilling to go into detail about the extra use cases, but Mangla referred to finance as well as media and entertainment as services running on 5G that may be enabled.

IBM and Syniverse will now set about recruiting live carriers for the production version, the executives said. “The proof of concept was a success.”