How can blockchain add value to mobile networks?

Blockchain has gained traction in segments such as utilities, banking and cryptocurrencies, thanks to its security and traceability features, but it could also generate great value for business in the management of mobile networks, where it remains almost non-existent at present.

In Brazil, CPQD, the country’s biggest ICT R&D company, is working with partners from the telecom sector and internet service providers on a functionality to allow blockchain technology to be applied to the operation of commercial, private and neutral mobile networks.

This is being done within the scope of the 5G BR project, which began last year and is funded with resources from the national fund for the technological development of telecommunications (Funttel).

“One of the fronts on which we’re working within the 5G BR platform is the use of blockchain for sharing network resources such as RAN sharing, and the sharing of passive infrastructure [towers],” Gustavo Correa de Lima, leader of CPQD’s wireless communications platforms, told BNamericas. 

“We envisioned the use of blockchain to help sharing of antennas, for example, given the high cost of deploying these structures for 5G,” he said. In this case, blockchain would be used by the different telcos to register and track the process of sharing the infrastructure.

CPQD intends to present blockchain as a product for different operators and companies interested in establishing private communication networks. “Packaging” it for sale in other countries is also on the radar.

According to the executive, the system of decentralized, public ledgers of online transactions could be applied to network slicing, among other things. 

This slicing, seen as key for 5G, enables the division of virtualized and independent logical networks on the same physical network infrastructure. Each “slice” is an isolated end-to-end network tailored to meet the different requirements of a particular application.

“When we talk about 5G slices, it could be that a company needs to compose its core network with the access network of another provider for a short period of time. How do I record what was used, which slice, and for how long? I register that in the ledger [blockchain],” said Correa de Lima.

There is also the possibility of using blockchain for trading network capacity. 

In this case, a neutral network company would make capacity on its network available in the market and interested internet service providers and operators would make a “match” in a marketplace, with this operation being registered in the blockchain, with the value, time-frame, and service-level agreement (SLA) all recorded.

In short, the blockchain could be used to monitor and record the quality of the service level in this sub-contracted network.

PRIVATE NETWORKS

Ultimately, the technology could also enable a “federation” of private networks, explains Correa de Lima, by enabling “matches” between supply and demand.

For example, a company that installs a private cellular network for its own operation, but which has a provider from its own supply chain in the vicinity of its plant, could extend connectivity and integrate this partner and record it in the blockchain. 

“This could even be monetized, opening up a new revenue stream under private networks,” said the executive.

Echoing CPQD, Infosys said in a report that it sees blockchain as having five main use cases, with tangible gains for communications service providers: roaming, identity management, SLA monitoring, prevention of phone theft and number portability.

The use of blockchain in the Latin American telecom sector is already underway, but in other areas and in a selective manner – nothing like what it is being proposed by CPQD.

Argentina’s Telecom FiberCorp, for example, last year signed a deal with IBM for the co-development of different solutions, such as cloud, security, IoT and artificial intelligence, as well as blockchain.

According to research firm MarketsandMarkets, the global blockchain market is expected to grow from US$3bn in 2020 to US$39.7bn by 2025, at a CAGR of 67.3% in the period.

Major vendors in the global blockchain market include IBM, AWS, Microsoft, SAP, Intel and Oracle.

5G LAB

CPQD’s blockchain development is being carried out in the context of the arrival of 5G.

In April, CPQD proposed the creation of a national benchmark laboratory for 5G to regulator Anatel. This lab would be multi-user and capable of carrying out a cybersecurity audits of equipment and solutions for Brazilian telecommunications networks.

The resources to build this infrastructure could be raised with the auction of 5G spectrum, due to be carried out by Anatel in the second half of this year, following the example of a proposal made in the US Senate, which outlines the allocation of up to 5% of the funds obtained from spectrum auctions for research and development of 5G technologies and cybersecurity initiatives for these networks.

One of the main goals locally is to meet the 5G cybersecurity requirements defined by the institutional security office (GSI), a body linked to Brazil’s presidency.

According to the proposal, management of the new laboratory would be shared between the ministry of science, technology, innovations and communications (MCTIC), Anatel and GSI.

OPEN RAN

CPQD is also one of the founders of the recently created Open RAN do Brasil group, which promotes regulation and incentives for the development of open standards in the country.

Under Open RAN, CPQD has also been a partner of Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP), through which it is currently working on a field trial at CPQD’s own headquarters and at the University of Campinas to “really prove the performance and capacity of Open RAN to operators,” according to Correa de Lima.

The project started earlier this year.

According to Correa de Lima, Claro is the only operator currently following and participating in the field tests. After this round of tests with Claro, other telcos are invited to join in.