• DT and T‑Mobile US team with Telefónica and Orange to create inter-operator network.
  • High hopes of streamlining wholesale carrier roaming processes.

Deutsche Telekom links into carrier blockchain gang

Deutsche Telekom links into carrier blockchain gang

Source: Telekom Innovation Laboratories

The wholesale divisions of Deutsche Telekom (DT), T‑Mobile US (TMUS), Orange, and Telefónica created what they claimed was the first inter‑operator blockchain network. The GSM Association (GSMA) said it had helped the four jointly test a “production-ready solution”.

Telekom Innovation Laboratories and Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier (DTGC) claimed they were the brains behind initial design of the blockchain-based network. They argued that their innovations will allow operators to “easily generate and sign secure, inter-operator roaming discount agreements”. The two DT divisions further asserted that a “new layer of trust” can now be added to the wholesale roaming business since agreed terms cannot be tampered with. Moreover, once you get a “holistic, analytic view of agreements”, this apparently allows further automation of the roaming wholesale workflow, such as settlement processes between operators.

  • As with other blockchain enthusiasts within the wholesale sector, DT pins high hopes on distributed ledger technology (DLT) to revamp how inter-operator roaming contracts are negotiated, implemented, tracked, and settled (Deutsche Telekomwatch, #88 and passim). A lot of this work is done manually, but blockchain holds out the promise of automating many of these processes, and all within a “trusted environment”. DTGC started testing a carrier blockchain network in collaboration with Telefónica International Wholesale Services (TIWS), Vodafone Roaming Services (VRS), and the GSMA in October 2019. No mention was made of Orange or TMUS involvement at the time, while VRS is believed to remain active in development of blockchain solutions for wholesale settlement. Deutsche Telekomwatch is not entirely sure if the eventual emergence of the inter-operator network was a product of this earlier testing, but it does seem likely given DT, TIWS, and the GSMA form multiple common denominators.

There is industry expectation that more streamlined processes will be required by wholesalers in the face of growing retail complexity. Federico Homberg, Head of Commercial Roaming Business Development at DTGC, said in a recent blog that as 5G, LTE‑M, Narrowband Internet of Things, Voice‑over‑LTE, and Video‑over‑LTE evolve, they could make it more difficult to manage roaming relationships through traditional methods. Increased automation may well be necessary in order to cope.

DT in the Clear

DTGC’s view of blockchain as a transformative technology is having wider impact within the DT ecosystem.

In February 2020, news emerged that DT’s Telekom Innovation Pool vehicle had participated in a $13m (€12.2m), Series‑A investment round in Israeli DTL app specialist Clear Blockchain Technologies. The round was led by Eight Roads. Among other investors were Hong Kong Telecom, Singapore Telecommunications’ venture capital arm Singtel Innov8, and Telefónica Innovation Ventures.

Clear leverages blockchain technology to enable high-volume business-to-business transactions, particularly targeting cross-border payments in the telecoms industry. Chief Executive Gal Hochberg said that the system “creates interactions in ways that are auditable, cryptographically secure”, and ensures that both sides are synced and seeing the same information”.

The vendor previously noted that its platform was being used by DT, TIWS, VRS, and the GSMA, as the basis for testing out settlement automation.

DT’s choice of TIP as its channel for the investment appears significant for how it sees its future relationship with Clear. The fund, primarily a vehicle for internal spin‑outs so far, appears to be evolving towards “strategy-motivated” financing — as opposed to the returns-focused strategy of DT’s main investments arm Deutsche Telekom Capital Partners, whose startup targets do not necessarily develop a broader relationship with the operator.

itsBchain in supplier mix

itsBchain, a blockchain solutions specialist, announced completion of a blockchain-based payment solution software blueprint for DT, Telefónica, and “other Tier 1 Carrier Intercepts”. The blueprint is for voice, SMS messaging, data wholesale carrier settlement, and payment. itsBchain’s aim is to shorten the receivables timeframe from between 35 and 40 days to as little as one day.

On the heels of the blueprint development at DT and Telefónica, US-based iQSTEL — which offers a wide range of services to the telecoms industry — purchased a 75%‑stake in itsBchain. No financial details were disclosed.

“ Blockchain technology is turning the payment processing world upside down. Rapid processing with fraud mitigation all in one forensic friendly system will drive the telecom market out of the dark ages into the 21st century. ” — iQSTEL

  • Etelix.com USA, an international carrier with a commercial presence in Europe, Latin America, and North America, is a wholly owned subsidiary of iQSTEL. SwissLink Carrier, another international player, is 51% owned by iQSTEL.

Blockchain jigsaw puzzle

Deutsche Telekomwatch is unclear how DT’s GSMA-related collaboration fits with other blockchain‑centred initiatives that have been bubbling up in the wholesale carrier sphere.

ITW Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF), an organisation representing more than 25 international wholesale carriers including DTGC recently spawned the Communications Business Automation Network (CBAN) consortium, which also counts DTGC as co‑founder. The CBAN looks integral to GLF efforts to establish a Carrier Blockchain Network.

The structure and governance principles of CBAN a “special-purpose entity” tasked by GLF to create a “live DLT‑enabled automated settlement platform were laid out in a whitepaper, published in January 2020. The whitepaper outlined the first release of the CBAN Reference Architecture. This included an initial set of definitions for data-on-demand and international voice settlement, which are the first minimal viable products (MVP) to be offered via the platform.

More MVPs are expected to be added in the future, such as 5G network slicing, cloud and edge compute, mobile roaming, Narrowband Internet of Things settlement, and storage. CBAN said it may publish these specifications and standards, or use “existing standards or specifications”, and align them with CBAN architecture and services. Timelines for commercial deployment are a little hazy, however.

Other co‑founding service provider members of CBAN labelled as ‘contributors’ include A1 Telekom Austria, BTS, Colt Technology Services, IDT, Orange, PCCW Global, Tata Communications, Telstra, and TIWS. More are expected to join “in the coming months”. CBAN is supported by numerous technology providers, including: Amartus, Clear, ConsenSys, CSG, Difitek, Internet Mobile Communications, Orbs, R3, Subex, Syniverse, and TOMIA.