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UK telecom regulator plans blockchain for phone number management

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Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, has received £700,000 from the government to investigate the use of blockchain to manage UK phone numbers. The organization plans to run trials between now and April 2020 with industry, universities and other providers.

At present, there are roughly one billion landline numbers available in the UK, either in use or allocated. Ofcom allocates numbers to telecom operators in blocks, and providers manage porting numbers when a user wants to take their number from one operator to another. Current systems will struggle as the infrastructure moves from analog to Internet Protocol or IP-based networks.

Porting numbers is currently painful for customers, so Ofcom envisages a new system making that easier. They also aim to lower regulatory and business costs and increase the industry’s agility. Plus there’s the potential to manage nuisance calls and reduce fraud. There’s an ancillary benefit that those involved will acquire blockchain skills.

Previous attempts to create a centralized database failed because of cost and the lack of coordination. While blockchain is designed for collaboration, if parties are unwilling, technology won’t help.

Blockchain helps with cost because the technology is open source. However, custom development is usually needed. All the providers share access to the data. There’s redundancy because data is replicated across nodes, and updates are available in near real-time.

Ofcom plans to share the outcomes with other regulators. That includes lessons learned, best practices and code.

Mansoor Hanif, Ofcom Chief Technology Officer, said: “We will be working with industry to explore how blockchain could make it quicker and easier for landline customers to switch providers while keeping their number – as well as reducing nuisance calls. And we’ll expand our research into other areas where innovative technologies such as blockchain could be applied to benefit consumers.”

Other telecom initiatives

In India, Tech Mahindra and Microsoft are creating a blockchain solution to fight spam calls. Deutsche Telekom is developing a solution to combat mobile phone theft. And there are carrier consortia focused on applications for cross-carrier payments and inter-carrier bandwidth services, amongst others.