Blockchain is steadily revolutionising businesses across industry verticals by redefining their transaction frameworks. However, ambiguity around regulatory standards continues to pose a challenge. Rajan S. Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India, talks about the blockchain potential for the telecom industry in India, the key risks and the future outlook. Excerpts….

What are the key emerging trends and use cases in the blockchain domain in India?

Blockchain will revolutionise the whole world and India is no exception to it. Considering the growing popularity of this technology, it certainly has a bright future. Gartner has forecast that blockchain will generate an annual business value of more than $176 billion by 2025, and more than $3.1 trillion by 2030. Within the next five years, blockchain has the potential to create value to the tune of $5 billion in India across all sectors. Blockchain is being explored across industries to develop multiple use cases. The frontrunners among them are the retail, travel, healthcare, telecommunications, real estate and public sector industries. The major use cases are focused on international fund transfers, trade, finance, know your customer, fraud management, decentralised data storage, data immutability and distributed ownership.

What potential does blockchain hold for the telecom industry?

India is probably the only country that has adopted blockchain in telecom. We are hopeful that with the advancement in blockchain technology, telcos will find merit in adopting it at an increasing pace. The first use case of blockchain in telecom regulation has been developed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which leveraged the technology for enacting the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018 on unsolicited commercial communication (UCC). Some other use cases of blockchain in telecom are:

  • Streamlining and optimising internal processes: It can be used for streamlining operations support system and business support system processes, enabling smart transaction processes, and provisioning of SIMs.
  • Identity and data management: Telcos can use blockchain to generate new revenue sources.
  • Fraud management: Blockchain can help telcos verify every individual’s identity and prevent identity fraud.
  • Roaming: Blockchain can address the operators’ problem of integrating high-cost systems, and providing access/authentication settings for enabling roaming calls across networks and operators.
  • 5G enablement: Blockchain can enable a new generation of access technology selection mechanisms for implementing 5G networks.
  • IoT smart contracts: The internet of things (IoT) is one area where blockchain-based smart contracts can be extremely useful.

What should be the building blocks for developing a successful blockchain ecosystem in India?

The government and various sector-specific regulators such as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), TRAI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India are exploring blockchain use cases for creating a favourable ecosystem. For instance, RBI has formed a new unit for examining emerging technologies such as cryptocurrency, blockchain and artificial intelligence. The unit will research, draft rules and supervise emerging technologies. NITI Aayog is also exploring opportunities to deploy blockchain in various industries.

What are the key issues associated with using this technology? How can these be resolved?

A key issue associated with blockchain technology is ensuring interoperability amongst different sets of blockchain. Technology companies need to address this issue as integration is paramount for creating a cohesive system. That said, it is still early days to anticipate all the risks associated with the adoption of this technology. The government and the regulators may build blockchain expertise by setting up university programmes and organising events such as hackathons. Further, there is a need for globally acknowledged regulatory standards that promote the use of blockchain. Additionally, the telecom industry, which is reeling under financial stress, may have to factor in blockchain’s long-term aspects, and build and deploy blockchain-based scalable and sustainable solutions.

What is the future outlook for blockchain in India? What lessons can be learnt from other global markets?

In the past couple of years, many global telecom operators such as Orange, Verizon, du and Telstra have invested in blockchain-related projects, start-ups, prototypes and frameworks. British Telecom and AT&T have filed multiple patents. These examples reflect the huge potential that blockchain technology holds in terms of revolutionising business functions. In India, blockchain offers immense scope for telecom. Many operators have started exploring blockchain for streamlining internal processes such as billing. Telecom operators have already implemented blockchain for addressing the UCC menace. We expect that within the next few years, the use of blockchain in telecom will become more prevalent.