The Big Telcos Are On The Blockchain

Blockchain technology offers telecoms companies a valuable tool, and it seems that they have been quick to pick up on its value.

As Benjamin Pirus writes for Forbes, AT&T, and T Mobile are both working with the technology in various ways. Pirus writes, “Blockchain has made a name for itself as the technology underpinning bitcoin, allowing the transfer of value without middlemen. The work of these telecom giants shows that what enterprises think of as “value” is much bigger than just currency alone.”

AT& T is applying blockchain to the supply chain for its handsets. Its CEO, Andy Daudelin, told Pirus that the technology is particularly useful for handling “handset returns, upgrades and other activities seen on the supply chain.”

Daudelin explained: “AT&T’s supply chain is collaborating on a blockchain solution with a major handset OEM [original equipment manufacturer] and a handset remanufacturing supplier. The solution will ensure that only authentic, certified parts are used in the device remanufacturing process.” He added, “addingblockchain to the mix also allows for better traceability of components used in remanufactured devices.”

AT&T is also interested in the blockchain’s security aspects and it is in the process of growing its “Internet of Things [IoT] presence and solutions,” with the intention to involve smart contracts in the mix, as its VP of information security, Karthik Swarnam told Pirus. He also mentioned the potential for using blockchain in the area of “verification of device identity.” And of course for checking the software to ensure no malware is lurking. He described it as “checking on the checksums” for authentication, and the “ability to store the checksums on a blockchain, where, at the time of use, you could go ahead and check and compare and verify whether you can trust that piece of code, trust that piece of software, or not.”

Furthermore, AT& T has been developing a suite of blockchain solutions for its enterprise customers and is working with IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services on this. Daudelin said: “What we do here is deliver your traditional blockchain solution. What we add to that is we’ll customize it and write the code specific to that use case, and we’ll add to that our network and IoT [Internet of Things] capabilities.”

As an example, Daudelin says that AT& T is working with a bottling company to “add notable specifics and clarity to that company’s supply chain, utilizing “IoT sensing” for its bottles.”

Furthermore, in May 2019, AT& T announced that its customers could pay their online bills with bitcoin, via bitcoin payment service BitPay.

Daudelin summed up AT&T’s general view of blockchain:

“As our world moves from highly centralized hierarchical processes to very decentralized processes, blockchain enables companies to deploy solutions that remain highly secure and that you can count on them in this very decentralized decision making the world.”

According to recent research, it appears that the telecoms sector is one where blockchain technology is going to grow at a rapid pace. A March 2019 reportfrom Infoholic Research stated: “The global blockchain in telecom market is expected to witness a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 77.9% to reach revenue of $1.37 billion by 2024.”

Perhaps it will get even bigger?


What retailers want from blockchain

Online retailers and those with bricks and mortar shops want to know how to use blockchain and to establish if it is a better system than the one they use now. Answering these questions is key to getting retailers to adopt blockchain solutions.

As Nikki Baird writes at Forbes, retailers are not so interested in how blockchain works, or how tokens are generated; they simply want to know how blockchain could work for them. Baird states there are three questions they need answered, and they are: Performance, Privacy and Ease of Use.

And as she points out, retailers don’t want to hear from platforms about how they intend to achieve these three things; they just want to have all of them in an operational blockchain.

So far, we’re not at that point; there is a way to go with each of the qualities retailers need to see.

Performance

When we talk about performance in relation to blockchain, we are really talking about scalability. That is the ability to handle lots of transactions, primarily for payments, but advertising is also important for online retailers. With payments, the transaction time can’t be slower than it is with the current system, and to win retailers over it needs to be faster. At the moment neither bitcoin nor ethereum can match Visa’s transaction times.

Privacy

Privacy is an important element of blockchain and cryptocurrency. The whole point of Bitcoin was to create a digital currency that could be traded anonymously, but is it truly anonymous?

Even if you don’t know who owns bitcoin, you can observe their behaviour on the blockchain. There are even businesses that track bitcoin usage and use the info to identify anonymous owners. This flaw is something that needs to be addressed, so that there is greater privacy on the blockchain, but without sacrificing scalability.

Baird writes, “For retailers, there is the additional issue of personally identifiable information and GDPR, Europe’s regulations around consumer privacy.”

Her answer to the issue is: “Blockchain has the potential to make all of that much easier, if we can evolve to a place where consumers can use blockchain to store their personal information, and decide and control which companies have access to which pieces of information.”

But as she points out, there are lots of hurdles to leap over before we arrive at this point, including identifying who is providing the service and doing more on the security of passwords.

Ease of Use

This is very important in a retail environment. And it is the one element that has been addressed more fully than the others. Baird highlights those companies that “bring blockchain to consumers without making it readily apparent that they are based on blockchain,” and “crypto wallets that make it easier to navigate between traditional and crypto currencies.”

Retailers are traditionally quite conservative, and the blockchain is still not mature enough to win them over. As Baird says, “For blockchain to make a difference in retail, it has to be much more about the experience than the technology.”

Blockchain will get there, but it isn’t ready yet!

Bitcoin gets some bling!

Image result for bitcoin

I didn’t think it was possible that bitcoin might ever be described as ‘blingy’, but over the past few days I’ve seen some news items that suggest the leading cryptocurrency is having some shine put on it by the luxury goods market and political fundraising. And I have a feeling this may just be the start.

First, Franck Muller, the high-end Swiss watch designer whose work is known for being quirky, has added cold wallet bitcoin storage to his latest watch. The Encrypta watch includes its own unique public address etched on the dial and a sealed USB containing the private key. Plus, owners will be able to add Bitcoin to their wallet and monitor their balance directly through the dial. Each model includes a dial that incorporates the QR code of Satoshi’s Genesis Block address, as well as a custom-designed “B” within an emblem of circuitry.

And just so you know, the Encrypto collection of men’s and women’s watches are advertised as costing between $10,780 and $55,880. It’s a pity they didn’t quote the price in BTC as well.

Next there is an app that supposedly makes investing in bitcoin much easier. Erik Finman, who started buying bitcoin when he was 12 and is now only 20, has designed the CoinBits app that allows users to buy fractions of a Bitcoin from spare change. The amount of the purchase is rounded up to the nearest dollar and the additional change is invested into small amounts of Bitcoin.

Last, Eric Swalwell, a Democrat and presidential candidate for the 2020 elections is accepting crypto donations for his campaign. Unsurprisingly, he is the Bay Area congressman, which puts him in close proximity to Silicon Valley and to all the crypto-relatd startups based in San Francisco. So, it makes sense that he should accept crypto. Apparently he is partnering with the White Company, a blockchain firm that will facilitate the donations and make them fully compliant with Federal Election Commission regulations.

Swalwell had this to say about crypto: “Blockchain can change the world, if we let it. So much of our public life now exists online, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t extend this further into our democracy and our economy – from exercising our right to vote, to how we look at cryptocurrency.”

Perhaps the way to encouraging mass adoption is to make bitcoin more ‘trendy’, almost a fashion accessory even. Political donations aside, the app and the watch are likely to turn up in a List of 10 Things You Must Have in some glossy magazine. Expect to see it in Vogue soon!

 

China moves into blockchain mode

For the last year or so, China has had a reputation for being anti-cryptocurrency and blockchain. However, this appears to be changing. Muyao Shen, writing at Forbes, reports that May 2019 may be the month that becomes known as the time when China did a U-turn and started to embrace blockchain technology.

According to her report, more blockchain projects in China are getting government support, including even working with government bodies to develop know-how for future blockchain platforms. This is distinctly different to the environment back in September 2017, when the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) together with several other central government agencies and financial regulators announced that it would ban initial coin offerings (ICOs).

The knock-on effect of this was that other East Asian countries closed their doors to anything related to cryptocurrency, especially the exchanges. The reasoning behind this attack on crypto was to protect people from crypto scams, but it had a dramatic effect on China’s crypto industry, with Binance, now one of the biggest exchanges globally, moving from Beijing to Tokyo.

Now, after a period during which any talk of blockchain or crypto in China was distinctly muted, things are moving forward. For example, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) recently released the first list of registered blockchain service providers. The list includes well-known names, such as Alibaba and Baidu. As they are now registered , “these blockchain-based information service providers are granted registration numbers under the Regulations on the Management of Blockchain Information Services,” Shen reports.

This ne set of regulations was reviewed and approved by the State Council Information Office earlier this year and was then implemented on 15th February, 2019. Regulators in the provinces have been working on the regulations that will hopefully grow China’s blockchain industry.

The ‘cyber police’ appear to be the officials hosting many of these meetings with tech companies, according to information from Xuemai Yu, chief executive officer of Hangzhou-based blockchain company DataQin. Yu also remarked that officials were keen to explain the nuances of the regulation: “The most important part was that they’ve divided all the blockchain projects into two categories, one is blockchain service providers, the other is blockchain technology providers.”

And the officials what they don’t like: 1. The public blockchain, where anyone can access and write and read anything they’d like to; 2. ICO-related scams.

“From the central government’s perspective, they want to make sure any information that could potentially harm the national security and stabilization wouldn’t spread on the Internet through blockchain,” Yu said.

The upshot appears to be that Chinese companies are already feeling confident about the development of blockchain in the country: Zhihao Zhang, assistant general manager of IT department at Soochow Securities Co,

said: “With the improvement of people’s acceptance and the maturity of the technology, the decentralized consensus will inevitably bring revolution in all areas of people’s lives, where things can be handled more openly and conveniently.”

Will this reversal of fortune for blockchain in China ripple out to have an effect on global attitutudes to the technology? That is an interesting question, to which I have no answer right now.