Blockchain: The answer to solve the perennial issues in the Telecom Industry
Neeti Virmani, Venture Partner, Loyal VC
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented action, especially when one has to find an opportunity in the worst crisis of our lifetime: Covid19. Worldwide, even before Covid19, consumer behaviour shifted towards transacting through the digital medium, thereby revolutionizing the digital ecosystem, including the technologies, capabilities and infrastructure. The Covid19 situation played a crucial role in further enhancing the shift. We observed WFH becoming the new normal and all the businesses evolving, pivoting to online and other effective channels, adapting with flexibility and agility. Talent working remotely became the new reality. With having no time in hand to carry out psychological assessments of the consumers, the brands and products had to take the cues from the daily purchase behaviour of consumers: we all witnessed the categories evolving. The technologies, which were used more for academic research purpose, suddenly became the General Purpose Technologies, including Artificial Technology, Robotics, Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies, Intelligent and connected devices, Quantum computing, 3D printing, Clean/sustainable energy and AR/VR. GPTs are pervasive, can quickly spread to most sectors, improve over time, thereby lowering the costs of its user, spawn innovation making it easier to build new products & processes; scale further.
Having lived in South Korea for over 5 years, the country has never stopped to amaze me when it comes to digital technology adoption. With its cutting edge technology, the country is light years ahead in its innovations, not only in Asia but globally. The Chaebols are the big investors in the technology startup ecosystem in these markets. The technology startups focus on entertainment, media, gaming, mobile consumer internet, while the deep technology startups focus on futuristic ideas. Case in point, the recent early adoption of 5G technology by the Telecom Operators in South Korea, with the total number of subscribers crossing 13 million. South Korea’s response to Covid19 was the best by far globally with the adoption of digitally enabled solutions. One of the technologies which South Korea has been way ahead in adoption is Blockchain. While most applications of blockchain technology have emerged in the financial sector, its practical applications go beyond finance because, essentially, any type of digital asset can be tracked and traded through a blockchain. Different industries, including healthcare, digital rights and micro-payments, supply chains and identity systems, are experimenting in the blockchain space, even though this experimentation is still in its early stages.
With the 5G technology, the telecom service provider needs to think of the preeminent way that brings the technology to its customers in terms of cost. While the technology will be available to all its current and potentially new subscribers, the operator should choose the High Net-worth individuals using the post-paid service to get better quality of data usage experience apart from the voice usage. This is in line with the identity of the telecom operator: to provide the best quality network to its current and new subscribers, along with new and innovative products.
The 5G technology will help in establishing the identity further. The competition includes all the telecom operators who have the 5G technology. The narrative of how 5G will impact the lives of the services’ consumers will go into all the communication material. This would also help the operator relentlessly focus on bringing the best network experience, especially its post-paid subscriber base. But just bringing the technology to its customers will not be enough. It needs to take care of all the processes behind servicing the customer to build a world-class service. Telecom set-up is a very data-centric/data-heavy/ data-dependent set-up. Hence the use of blockchain will establish better processes to help bring inefficiencies and provide better service. Fraud, bad debts due to bad collection, Verification related risks, illegal usage, Human error, lack of transparency, Churn could be eliminated with smart contracts on the blockchain. SLA monitoring can be made easier with blockchain-powered smart contracts, which create the most trustworthy and reliable database. Mobile number portability can be streamlined with a blockchain solution that will act as one network, where all service providers can review and action requests. The customer database can be safely secured with blockchain solutions, which give great control to the individual. The prevention of phone theft by storing unique device/SIM data on the blockchain will help identify and block stolen devices immediately. The data on the payments and also for making easy payments, to be paid by the customers on a monthly basis in the post-paid, if enabled through blockchain, can make the transactions more secure, keep the data secure and bring in regularity in the payments and collections, thereby reducing bad-debts. New digital services can be created and developed using blockchain.
The low cost of using blockchain for affordable monthlyuse payments can enable telecom operator to provide micropayments which are usually used to purchase online mobile games, music, etc. As a result of deploying this service, no bank account details, credit card info, or any other suspicious or crucial data will be required to be provided to third party applications. In other words, the security of the blockchain applications will provide an even higher level of security for telecom users. Another application for blockchain technology is money transfer. It may seem reasonably evident since blockchain moved from a theory to real-world applications through cryptocurrency. Since blockchain may not give the desired scalability, we could complement the technology with Artificial Intelligence. While many telecom companies are yet to apply this concept to enable their users to transfer money to other customers using a blockchain-based service, some of the early movers in this space include KT Corporation, one of the leading 5 ‘chaebols’ and the largest telecom company in South Korea, which has developed an advanced blockchain-based network security solution. They have also launched blockchain to improve their data on roaming and ID verifications. Other telecom operators like Sprint, Verizon, AT&T are expected to be taking bold initiatives in blockchain technology to address some of the perennial challenges of the telecom industry: data & network security requirements, fraud and bad debts.
With the VC funding going behind ideas that are using futuristic technology to create the desired social impact, the GPT’s, especially Blockchain, will be the way of life in the times to come.
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