Telecoms regulator Ofcom has secured £700,000 from the government for a project aimed at using blockchain technology to make switching broadband and telephone provider, and keeping familiar phone numbers, simpler.
The grant is part of the government’s Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, which has awarded £10m to regulatory bodies across fields from aviation to law. The grants are designed to ensure regulators are fostering innovation in the public sector and keeping pace with future technological changes—from virtual lawyers to flying cars.
Business Secretary Greg Clark announced the list of 15 successful bidders, which included Ofcom, energy market regulator Ofgem, and the Financial Conduct Authority, and welcomed their work.
“The UK’s regulatory environment is recognised as being among the best in the world and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are building a business environment in which Britain’s dreamers, developers and disruptors can continue to thrive,” he said.
“These projects will further strengthen our regulatory system and ensure that it keeps pace with the innovation and technological advances needed to power our economy now and in the future.”
A recent study from Deloitte compared the challenges confronting regulators today (as they react to a sea of changes in information, communication, and transportation) to those faced by lawmakers during the advent of the automobile a century ago.
Regulators participating in the Pioneer Fund will tackle the four “Grand Challenges” identified in the government’s Industrial Strategy: the use of AI and data, the ageing population, mobility and changing transport networks, and clean growth.
In the telecoms sector, Ofcom will use blockchain technology to make it easier for consumers to switch internet and telephone provider—and to keep their phone number when they do.
While Ofcom’s General Conditions state that customers should be able to keep their landline and mobile numbers when switching telecoms providers, in reality many are forced to leave familiar numbers behind. Additionally, the roll out of full-fibre networks and increasing prevalence standalone broadband connections—those that don’t require a landline—mean customers are opting for internet-based telephone services, such as VoIP, and may want to keep their phone number when switching to them.
To meet such challenges, Ofcom will, in partnership with the industry, develop a secure sandbox environment for providers of voice communications—both mobile and fixed—to trial porting and managing telephone systems using blockchain technology. Blockchain technology involves decentralised, shared ledgers of information, and is most notably used as the basis for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
This testbed environment will allow providers of voice communication services to build interfaces, test business processes and rules, and trial security measures.
Mansoor Hanif, CTO of Ofcom, 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 the benefit of consumers.”