The seminal Bitcoin paper written by the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto has introduced a novel technical concept whose usefulness goes well beyond cryptocurrencies, blockchain.
Blockchain is basically a shared distributed ledger, and each user of the associated network has a full copy of it. Once a transaction is made, it is first validated to make sure it is legitimate, then a block corresponding to that transaction is created. Now, since the transaction is visible across the network and several entities (miners) may have prepared a block for it, a consensus needs to be reached to determine the state of the ledger and who gets to add its block to the existing chain.
Normally, proof of work is used to achieve that task. To clear any misconception, blockchain is not analogous to bitcoin although cryptocurrencies where the first applications of such technology. However, all use cases adopting blockchain technology can benefit from the same inherent features it provides.
Companies operating in different areas have made the leap to benefit from the intrinsic properties of the blockchain, mainly security, immutability, transparency and control, to streamline their operations. Telecommunication paradigms have considerably evolved from mere voice and data service provision into creating a holistic connectivity among mobile subscribers and other things through internet of things (IoT) and machine to machine (M2M) applications.
Such radical shift has had a major impact on the network operations as the number of connected devices, the amount of data being shared, and the complexity of the resource management operations have suddenly increased. Blockchain technology has provided network designers and operators with a new unforeseen avenue to streamline their operations. It therefore constitutes an undeniable asset for such an evolving market.
One Technology and a Huge Number of Opportunities
The adoption of the blockchain technology unlocks a myriad of opportunities, and in other terms solutions to existing teething issues.
Telecom Infrastructure Sharing
The current global telecom ecosystem has mandated the deployment of the 5G wireless standard. Operators have been rushing to roll-out and optimize their 5G networks to gain a worldwide marketing edge over competitors. Being the first operator to run a 5G network, utilize a certain band or mode of operation has become a priority for top players around the world. From a technical perspective, the challenges in that context are rather immense as 5G requires a significantly larger number of transmission sites.
However, finding proper adequate locations is not always possible given the large number of already existing sites. The expenditures involved in creating a new site is an unwelcomed addition as well. The recent trend among operators is to share the telecom infrastructure and engage in operations known as sell and leaseback practices. This considerably reduces costs and enables a better optimization of the deployed network.
As the requirements (resources needed) and the existing entities of each operator are different, a blockchain can be used to optimize the transactions between the operators and infrastructure management entity. The service level agreements (SLAs) between operators can be stored as a smart contract on the distributed ledger.
Internet of Things and Machine-to-Machine Applications
The explosion in the number of connected entities has increased the challenges in the development of secure IoT and M2M solutions. When it comes to such services, two main problems arise, the trust between devices coming from different vendors, and the integrity and security of data being exchanged. The authentication and authorization schemes enabled by the use of a blockchain as well as the guaranteed data immutability pave the way to large scale IoT and M2M networks. As an example, Matter, previously known as the Connected Home over IP project (Project CHIP) is a standard that will rely on a blockchain to ensure interoperability between IoT devices originating from different vendors.
Fraud Prevention and Improved Operations in Roaming Services
Roaming has been a key enabler of worldwide connectivity as subscribers can continue to use their SIM card abroad over the visitor operator’s network for some additional fees. The billing process is governed by the agreements established between corresponding operators. As such, a huge number of roaming transactions need to be maintained to settle the roaming fees among operators. A blockchain can automate the process as transactions can be securely added to the chain, once a subscriber establishes a connection outside his home network. Another layer of security can be implemented by using a permissioned blockchain which is only available among a specific number of parties. By adopting blockchain as a technology, fraudulent subscriber behavior can be avoided. By automating roaming transactions, the usual delay in roaming data exchange is reduced. Fraudulent activity resulting from identity theft, SIM cloning, among others can therefore be detected more easily.
Telecom operators have been relying on third-party payment networks such as Visa, MasterCard, Swift, banking or even cash payments. Blockchain and its first adopter, cryptocurrencies, have the possibility to change the way telecom-related transactions are made. Each operator can use its own currency for its subscribers to complete various transactions. The safest bet is on a class of coins called stablecoins. A stablecoin is a cryptocurrency which is pegged to an external reference such as a fiat currency, a commodity such as gold or other cryptocurrencies. Stablecoins offer a good tradeoff between the inherent security of cryptocurrencies and the relative small volatility in the valuation of fiat currencies.
Using cryptocurrencies can go beyond simple financial transactions. Cryptocurrencies can be provided by operators to subscribers to actively participate in network operations. Coverage extension of beyond 5G networks can be achieved when subscribers agree to act as relays. Another side effect of such relaying mechanisms is to improve the quality of service of different users in the network. To convince subscribers to participate by relinquishing their unused allocated bandwidth or processing power, the operator can pay them back through its established cryptocurrency. This currency is then stored in the recipient’s wallet and can be later use for specific transactions.
Blockchain has been a disrupting technology offering notable security-related properties which are much needed in today’s data-driven operations. Telecom is among the sectors which relies heavily on the data being exchanged among network entities. The advent of 5G has unlocked a large number of use cases that could welcome blockchain to optimize their operations. The adoption of this technology is certainly increasing. In the near future, chain-related technologies would certainly become among the core components of wireless networks.
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Why the United Kingdom Hates Huawei
The telecommunications industry is not immune from the political tensions and the war of attrition that has been reigning between China and the USA and other European countries for some time now. The emergence of Chinese vendor and original equipment manufacturer Huawei as a serious competitor to other vendors and manufacturers has been a notable event in the last decade. As a vendor, the Chinese company has been increasing its ties with operators throughout the world. As a smartphone manufacturer, Huawei has been poised to dethrone Apple and Samsung as the leader in the industry. After President Trump’s executive order in 2019, the war on the Chinese giant escalated massively and most of the US allies were involved in a way or another in this technological collateral damage resulting from the ongoing tensions. One of the biggest US allies, the United Kingdom has been lately at the center of attention with the decision to remove Huawei components from most wireless networks with a deadline set to January 2023. Why the United Kingdom hates Huawei is a question with an answer that goes well beyond its geographical borders, with many factors contributing to this relation.
The Huawei Ban
The fight against Huawei hasn’t started in May 2019 with President Trump’s executive order that placed Huawei and other Chinese companies on the Entity List, preventing them from doing business with entities and organizations operating in the USA. Huawei has been accused of intellectual property theft for a long time starting with the accusations of Cisco in 2003. Many other big companies such as Motorola and Nortel joined the fore in accusing the Chinese company of patent infringements and other security breaches. Huawei has consistently proclaimed its innocence though.
The “official” ban that started in 2019 meant that Huawei could not work with the likes of Google and Qualcomm, two of the closest partners to the Chinese company in the USA. The main reason for the ban is the suspicion that the equipment used by Huawei and other Chinese companies can be used for spying purposes by the Chinese government. While Trump’s mandate has ended, the ban effects is ongoing as more and more countries and companies having to cut the ties with the manufacturer.
A Ban to Throttle Huawei’s Eventual 5G Dominance
The Huawei ban can also be seen as one key component of the raging 5G war. It is rather not surprising that the time of the ban coincided with the official deployment of 5G networks. Huawei has in fact become among the best telecom infrastructure providers and the leader in 5G equipment market . The good value for money that Huawei is known for has made it the partner of choice for may operators around the world. It has even significantly contested the dominance of Ericsson and Nokia. Huawei’s technology is also considered among the most advanced.
5G at the Heart of the UK-Huawei Issues
The decision of UK prime minister Boris Johnson to ban Huawei equipment focused specifically on its 5G technology. The task has been much more difficult that originally thought. The main problem is in changing the core component of the network without disrupting services to the customers. British Telecom, the leading operator in the country raised the voice regarding the deadline to phase out Huawei equipment. This illustrates the high reliance of global operators and British ones on the Chinese manufacturer.
The daunting task awaiting operators in the country is to gradually changing network components without disrupting services and while maintaining the same performance levels. This is not obvious as the equipment from various vendors has different properties, and the network needs to be reoptimized to guarantee at least coverage and capacity requirements. What politics does not understand is that telecom infrastructure can’t be changed with the click of a button.
So, to be more specific, the position of the UK as a key ally to the USA has had a big influence on the country’s decision regardless of the economic repercussions. Although many companies inside and outside the UK voiced their desire to re-establish a connection with Huawei, this hasn’t affected to gradual ban prospects.
Can the Chinese Giant Survive the Ban?
Since the ban started, Huawei has been developing its own ecosystem in terms of smartphones, operating system, and more telecom-related segments, in a way to make it independent of the effects of the ban. The sanctions on the company have indeed affected its revenues. Huawei can however rely on its strong presence its home country China. The company provides a large chunk of the infrastructure for most operators in the country. Huawei also has strong presence in external markets and countries which are not affected by the US decision. Although the business of the company has been affected, the question related to its survival is out of question.
Can Telecom Companies Survive Without Huawei?
A lot of companies in the USA, UK, and many other countries have been relying a lot on Huawei’s advanced technology. The sudden disappearance of their trusted partner will have several effects. Manufacturers will have to upgrade their equipment without the components provided by Huawei. As for telecom operators, Huawei’s absence will force them into looking into the new partners among the competition, searching for a similarly advanced technology. In broader terms, the 5G roll-out plans for several countries including the UK will be severely affected as Chinese manufacturers, such as Huawei, have a significant contribution in all domains of the process.
The Huawei saga is far from ending soon. Its significance far exceeds the legal battle between Samsung and Apple. The notable presence of Huawei in the telecom industry has made it difficult to simply wipe it out from deployed infrastructures. The role the company is playing in the 5G market also makes it much difficult to sideline it from future 5G projects. Why the United Kingdom hates Huawei? The UK’s decision has notably been of political nature and the struggles of British operators to remove Huawei components from their network is a clear indicator. The important question is whether they will meet the specified deadline to remove all Huawei equipment without clearly affecting the network performance or 5G plans.
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China Welcomes a Fourth 5G Telecom Provider
China is one of the largest countries around the world. Together with India, it accounts for about one third of the world’s population and two thirds of Asia’s population. The country has been enjoying steady economic growth with a gross domestic product (GDP) increase of about 10 percent each year according the World Bank. However, the last few years witnessed a slowdown in GDP growth with estimated 5 percent in 2022. The coronavirus pandemic and several challenges contributed to the slowdown. As in other countries, 5G seen as an opportunity for economic growth. In contrast to neighboring India which should see the new fifth generation later this year, Chinese operators have deployed the latest technology three years ago. A few days ago, telcos has welcomed the fourth 5G provider, namely China Broadnet.
Telecommunications in China
The telco landscape in mainland China has been dominated by three operators, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. China Mobile is undoubtedly the largest operator in the country with a number of subscribers nearly three times that of China Telecom and Unicom. Given the political system in the country, the three operators are backed by the Government of China. The sector is regulated by the ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).
The strength of the telecom sector in the country is not limited to the service provided in the country, but also to the presence of operators and vendors outside the country as well. China Mobile has a presence in Hong Kong, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. China Telecom has two subsidiaries for the European and American markets. China Unicom has a subsidiary named China Unicom Global Limited which has been established to cover telecom markets outside China. Vendors and original equipment manufacturers have also been dominating telecom markets outside the country. Despite the US. sanctions and the talks about intellectual property infringements, these companies have used their aggressive pricing strategy to get into the ecosystem of most countries around the world. Huawei, ZTE, and some lesser known brands have rivalled with the likes of Ericsson and Nokia. Their phone segments have also become popular with their offerings which provide the best value for money. In countries where notable economic difficulties, Chinese brands are the best sellers.
The Chinese 5G Landscape
The large Asian country has been unsurprisingly one of the early adopters of the latest wireless evolution. The Chinese market is huge and full of opportunities compared to other markets. According to spokesmen from the MIIT, all cities and around 90 percent of the rural areas have 5G coverage in the country. This is higher than 5G coverage in the USA for example. The number of 5G cell-sites is also expected to reach the two million mark by the end of 2022. The investments by telecom operators is expected to be around Yuan 1.2 trillion which is about USD 179 billion. The investments are not only in the infrastructure but in advanced technologies that will help the operators unlock the full potential of the 5G evolution. Earlier in May, Huawei and China Telecom announced their super time-frequency folding technology, which in simple terms, combines the merits of time and frequency division duplexing (TDD and FDD) to achieve high uplink and downlink data rates while reducing the perceived latency as much as possible. This will allow to meet the requirements for ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) use cases in the future.
The 5G network has been gradually deployed in the country between the second half of 2019 and early 2020. While the pandemic has had an impact on the different plans in the country, the different activities related to the telecom infrastructure hasn’t been affected much. The initial deployment was in the n41 band (2.6GHz) for China Mobile and the n78 band (3.5GHz) for China Telecom and Unicom. To extend coverage, the low sub-1GHz bands are being planned for better coverage. As a noteworthy example, China Telecom and Unicom are co-building the 5G network, with cost-saving in sight.
China Broadnet as a Fourth 5G Provider
At the end of June 2022, a fourth operator has started providing services and potentially compete with the other three operators. Named China Broadnet, the new entrant started offering 4G and 5G services to customers.
The announcement was important for two reasons. Firstly, China Broadnet strategically decided to operate in the 80 MHz bandwidth its mother company China broadcasting network (CBN) acquired in the 700 MHz golden band in 2019. The new operator also owns spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band (n79) which it may use as well. The second notable event is that China Broadnet is cooperating with the leading operator to deploy its network and will probably rely first partially on its partner operator’s network. The agreement which spans multiple years allows the new entrant a paid access to the leading operator’s network notably in the 2.6GHz band. The new operator also chose ZTE as a partner to build the new infrastructure.
In a sense, the Chinese telcos has organized themselves into two groups, China Mobile and Broadnet are collaborating to integrate the new entrant into the ecosystem. The bands acquired by Broadnet and the already existing bands that China Mobile uses should provide some nice future insights for the partnership given the wide spectrum availability when combining all the bands. On the other side, the remaining two operators are working on their own 5G network.
Despite all the controversy surrounding Chinese operators and vendors, and the persistent political tensions with the USA and other European countries, the telecom market in China remains a prosperous, interesting, and unique model. The advent of the fourth operator with all telco politics surrounding it shouldn’t cause a major impact directly. The partnership with China Mobile and the gradual rollout of the network promises a change in the competition dynamics in the near future, notably if China Broadnet can deliver unique services that can set it apart from its competitors.
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The Impact of Telecommunications on Our Society
The telecom evolution has been happening at a considerably fast pace. Civilizations flourished around the latest advances in technologies that allowed communications between distant parties. From smoke signals to pigeons and hawks, wireless communications went through several stages of evolution until reaching the current global connectivity we enjoy. The impact of telecommunications on society has not only been related to enabling voice and data connectivity, but it has also contributed significantly to improving the quality of life and provided individuals with the means to face disasters, and other less significant daily life problems.
Telecommunications For Global Connectivity
The biggest impact telecom has been having on society is dissolving distances to create a connected world. The invention of wireless telegraphy by Marconi in 1901 and the transmission of the first radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean was the first precursor to the current telecommunications era. The work of Claude Shannon in 1948 laid the foundations of current digital communication systems we presently use. The evolution towards the fifth generation of wireless communications, the predominance of Wi-Fi connections, the proliferation of web and mobiles apps have all contribute to make the world as small as the click of a button.
Telecommunications as a Facilitator for Remote Working and Learning
The latest pandemic which has not ended yet, has taught us the importance of telecommunications as a key to survival. What has been seen as an unessential commodity has turned out to be a main method for survival, without which, most industries and businesses would have collapsed. In a period where lockdowns were preponderant, telecommunication systems have constituted the oxygen of the society.
Remote learning has also been an addition to large pool of telecom use cases. With schools closed, the telecom infrastructure replaced the institution’s physical premises. The pandemic coincided with the deployment of 5G networks around the world. Therefore, several uses cases were developed to make use of the latest technology. Blended learning modules, virtual and interactive classrooms activities were developed by exploiting the available technologies provided by telco operators, to fill the gap imposed by the lengthy lockdowns.
As the pandemic eased up a bit, several businesses continued to have remote or hybrid working opportunities as this model proved to reduce operational costs without having to sacrifice the quality of work. In a sense, the presence of solid telecom infrastructure provided businesses with the tools to slowly get out of economic recession.
Telecommunications as an Enabler for Digital Transformation
Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and internet of things (IoT) have been with telecommunications the main pillars of digital transformation which aims at changing the society we live making it “smarter”, and much more driven by continuously generated data. The success of the digitalization process is highly dependent on the quality of the telecommunications infrastructure. As the digitalization and telecom evolve in synergy, the way we complete our daily tasks will be completely disrupted, as the daily activities will be performed digitally, and the interaction will mainly be with machines and computers.
Telecommunications as a Means for Innovation
The biggest contribution of telecommunications for today’s society is innovation, regardless if the innovation is beneficial or not to society. Several innovative solutions are inherent to progress in the telecom field.
The Metaverse is probably the future society we will possibly live in, in the future. This digital world that is attracting investments from different companies trying to own some part of this ecosystem, can certainly not exist without an underlying telecom infrastructure. To this end, telecom operators are the true enablers of the Metaverse. With this project, telecommunications will be indirectly and radically changing the structure of the society.
The other big thing that dominated the last decade is related to this decentralized currency, that envisions a financial paradigm that circumvents the dominating role of banks. With transactions stored on a blockchain which is available to anyone in the network, the telecom industry has provided the society with a new mechanism for financial transactions. Any commodity can now be purchased using cryptocurrencies, without relying on fiat currencies backed by banks.
Telecommunications For Better Health Services
The pandemic has not only emphasized the role of telecommunications as a central element to keep vital sectors alive. It has changed how health services are provisioned. The difficulty for doctors to reach their patients has increased the adoption of telehealth services. When coupled with IoT and wearable solutions that continuously collect patients’ data, telehealth services have provided low-cost means to treat patients, replacing traditional costly hospital visits. The democratization of healthcare in society requires a strong telecom infrastructure needed for the continuous transmission of data. With upcoming telecom evolutions, digital twins will be the next big thing in the healthcare industry.
Negative Impact of Telecommunications on Society
The evolution of telecommunication networks and the increasing reliance of people on the developed services has created a digital society that lacks the necessary physical interactions. Social gatherings and events have had less importance in favor of social media activities and multiplayer gaming platforms. Even if physical events are taking place, attendees are most of the time immersed into their mobile phone. Advances in telecommunications have created a segregated society with newer generations preferring to remain isolated in their digital word, away from their older relatives. Normal family bonds have slowly been transforming into distant digital connections. This trend amplified by the pandemic, illustrates the collateral damage that technological evolution has on the society. No matter how technology and telecom in particular facilitate our daily life, we need to be always ready to pay the price in terms of our interactions with the surroundings.
The currently advanced society is indebted to telecommunications for the evolved state it has reached. The way we complete our daily tasks has been greatly simplified through the use of our communicating devices. The effects of global disasters are also less detrimental with telecom network providing a safety network where businesses and other vital sectors can offload their activities to the digital world to survive. As we gain a lot, we have to pay a price as technology promotes increased isolation and progressively fewer social bonds.
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