Chris Vitek
Chris Vitek is a senior consultant at Cognizant and a member of the board of directors for WebRTC Strategies. In...
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Chris Vitek | March 22, 2016 |


Blockchain: Coming to Your Telecom Future

Blockchain: Coming to Your Telecom Future If you think blockchain technology is just for bitcoin, you'd be wrong.

If you think blockchain technology is just for bitcoin, you'd be wrong.

In the famous words of Emily Litella, a longtime favorite Saturday Night Live character played by Gilda Radner: "Is this the party to whom I am speaking?" Such was the comic state of authentication in the age of analog telephony.

Securing communications truly does begin with authentication, which, in the traditional IP-PBX environment, is wedded to a telephone's MAC address. In software-based interfaces, a log-in process works to secure access to communications tools. In public communications, authentication is more Litella-like. Think about calling your bank -- authentication typically involves a manual process that requires the recitation of personal information. What if, for once, your bank knew who you were as soon as you connected?

When standardized in 1995, SIP floundered for years because, as a peer-to-peer technology, it did not fit the telecom carriers' need to maintain control of every communications event as was possible in their client/server architectures. In a peer-to-peer architecture, every endpoint (user agent) can be both a client and a server. Because of this, SIP was co-opted into working like a client/server application with the use of session border controllers (SBCs). SIP finally became relevant when SBCs came along in the early 2000s because they allowed enterprises and carriers to maintain network security, transaction control -- and a financial grip -- on customers with a product called a SIP trunk.

Now blockchain, the technology underlying bitcoin, is about to eliminate the need not only for SBCs but also for centralized intervention into every communications event -- and this will change the communications industry forever.

A blockchain is a transaction database that all nodes participating in the bitcoin system use (source: Bitcoin wiki).

The bitcoin project shocked the monetary and banking world seven years ago with the creation of an alternative currency. But few people outside the technology business understood that the real story was blockchain, not bitcoin.

Blockchain technology supplies trust (authentication) and encryption in a peer-to-peer architecture. Operatively, this allows a person to use a software user agent to set up a bitcoin account and then trade value directly between other user agents without the need to negotiate with a centralized banking entity for each transaction. Blockchain technology encrypts the "ledger" or "blockchain database" and it is maintained among user agents.

Value and reporting can be monitored by those that the user agent allows to monitor such information. This includes banks or government entities that support or regulate these types of financial networks. Alternatively, for a peer-to-peer communications network, this may include what we traditionally consider a telecom service provider. Further, scale, achieved through a mesh topology, is theoretically unlimited.

The technology has proven so successful that many large European banks have built their own blockchain banking networks and JPMorgan Chase announced in January that it is launching a blockchain technology trial.

In a Business Insider post earlier this month, finance reporter Portia Crowe put it like this: "Wall Street wants to use blockchains to simplify the way it processes transactions. That may not sound very exciting, but if it works, it could eliminate back-office jobs and costs. So it's worth paying attention to -- especially if you're one of the thousands of people who work in bank back offices."

If blockchain is good enough to secure banking transactions, then it is surely good enough to support telecom authentication.

Google's investment in WebRTC has created free-range, peer-to-peer communications. More than 800 companies are using WebRTC in their products today, and many also support SIP. This has the telecom industry trying to co-opt WebRTC by including it in SBCs.

Telecom authentication is a horribly convoluted solution to an age-old problem. If you have any doubts about this, take a brief tour of wireless network architectures. Blockchain blows away all complexity with the delivery of a single authoritative entity for trust.

As food for thought: Consider how JPMorgan might deliver authentication services and revenue transfer services for a multitude of SIP or WebRTC-based virtual telecom carriers. You may choose one vendor for video, another for audio, and a third for text, but you would only get one bill for all three services as long as they offered JPMorgan billing services. This could also be used to securely purchase cable TV channels one at a time.

Further, think about how any enterprise could deploy a WebRTC/blockchain or SIP/blockchain network. The enterprise would then be able to provide one-click access to text, file transfer, screen sharing, audio, and video communications over a network of unlimited scale (including customer apps) with military-grade encryption that could extend, via SBCs or multipoint control units, to legacy text, voice, and video applications. It would provide global access via IP networking to software-based, browser-based or mobile app interfaces -- no proprietary phones, PBXs, or UC. No local exchange or interexchange carriers. No breaking of existing communications networks.

This is the future of human communications, and it is here now.


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