Ofcom secures £700,000 grant to trial blockchain technology for phone number management

Ofcom secures £700,000 grant to trial blockchain technology for phone number management The UK government is actively looking to explore blockchain technology to help manage its phone numbers as the country moves towards an all-IP infrastructure. So, how will this benefit the telcos and consumers? Shashank Venkat finds out

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has just been awarded a £700,000 grant to test the use of blockchain technology to improve the way landline telephone numbers are managed in the country. The grant, given by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, will be used to trial the porting and management of these phone numbers between now and 2020.
 
The UK is home to around a billion landline telephone numbers. Traditionally, these have been issued in blocks to communications services providers (CSPs) who manage these numbers at their end. However, with the UK moving to an all-IP infrastructure, the current number management systems will be severely challenged to handle the load.
 
It is good to see the UK government actively promoting the use of blockchain technology to assist telecoms businesses. In an earlier blog, we identified some potential use cases for blockchain technology in the telecoms industry and predicted that blockchains could be used for data management and automating BSS/OSS processes. It seems that Ofcom is heading in the same direction.
 
According to Ofcom’s announcement, it is not clear whether they intend to use a public blockchain or a consortium blockchain for this purpose. However, considering the sensitivity of the data involved, it seems likely that a consortium blockchain may be best suited for this use case.
 
Ofcom also note that previous attempts at developing a centralised number management database have not succeeded because of high costs and interoperability concerns. However, distributed ledger technology offers a cost-effective way to collaborate and manage data, and since the information is immutable and updated in real-time, it allows for greater transparency among the participants.
 
Essentially, blockchain technology can have a positive impact in the following ways:
  • Seamless customer experience when switching service providers
  • Lower regulatory and operational costs for communications businesses
  • Increased agility
  • Effective fraud management
 
The regulatory body has said that the trial will allow it to test the new technology before rolling it out across the industry. In addition, Ofcom also thinks that the new skills and knowledge learned during this trial will aid further innovation and stimulate other use cases among partner organisations.
 
Distributed ledger technology is already being trialled in other industries worldwide to improve processes. For instance, the IBM-Maersk blockchain platform is aiming to simplify the movement of goods and reduce maritime fraud, whilst Kodak is also trying out blockchain for digital rights management.
 
The telecoms sector is perfectly placed to leverage blockchain technology - the industry is currently hamstrung by legacy infrastructure along with complex third-party agreements and settlement processes while it struggles to find newer sources of revenue. Blockchain comes with a promise of solving these legacy problems and offering much more - is the telecoms industry ready to grow block by block?