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Can Blockchain transform telecoms?

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By Ahmad Sayed, MEA Regional Director at Nexign.

With the blockchain expected to contribute almost $1 billion to the telecoms sector within the next five years, the technology clearly offers more than just a vehicle for cryptocurrency. From Smart Contracts to speeding up inter-carrier settlements, the blockchain has the potential to reshape the telecoms environment for the digital age.

Already, we are starting to see relationships being established between service providers, telecoms operators, and the like to reinvent how business support systems (BSS) are delivered. An example of this is the recent exclusive partnership between Nexign and Bubbletone to develop an industry-first blockchain-based BSS solution for the telecom sector.

This sees the establishment of a global marketplace that facilitates the secure exchange of financial and identity information between mobile network operators and service providers. This will enable roaming users to instantly purchase service packages using their existing SIM card. And with the price levels to reflect customer demand, the ‘home’ communication service provider (CSP) will still be able to retain its existing clients.

Telecom changes

For CSPs, the blockchain provides significant technological enhancements. For one, it provides a more secure and scalable environment with global connectivity. Considering that a blockchain essentially links records (blocks) using cryptography, it is a safer way to store subscriber identity information.

Secondly, the blockchain provides CSPs with a better way to optimise costs. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can be managed through the blockchain. If certain conditions are not met, automated actions can be taken created a significantly smoother process.

It also unlocks new revenue opportunities thanks to the growth of the Internet of Things, verification services, mobile money transfers, and other digital asset transactions. The blockchain will also result in the establishment of new revenue models to provide further platforms for growth.

Outside the telecoms environment, the blockchain can provide opportunities for industry verticals. From enabling financial services transactions on mobile devices to directly paying for utilities and other accounts, it offers a key enabler for technology. Ultimately, this could accelerate the growth of smart cities with e-services becoming more secure and directly linked between service provider and customer.

Several mobile phone manufacturers are already introducing blockchain-based devices. Some feature built-in wallets (secured through the blockchain) while others see the establishment of a blockchain-based operating system and communications protocol for making calls, sending messages, and transmitting data.

Contracts done smarter

Even though the notion of Smart Contracts as a benefit of the blockchain is nothing new, the potential it provides for SLA management are especially useful for the telecoms industry. Legal staff can use a template to create a contract with technical staff using the validated electronic contract to transform it into a Smart Contract.

The SLA can focus on the fulfilment of certain conditions. If these are not met, funds placed in escrow by the two parties can then automatically be paid out according to the contract. Because this can be managed programmatically, it is a more effective way of managing contracts. While the market is still a few years away from seeing this go mainstream, the potential is there.

Click here to read research about blockchain’s applications in Africa.

African opportunities

Meanwhile in Africa, research has shown that internal migration is driven by the need for jobs, often in neighbouring countries. This, together with new technologies such as e-SIMS (an embedded or electronic SIM card built into a mobile phone), create an environment where CSPs are looking for ways to maintain their subscriber base while still investing in their networks.

This creates an ideal environment for new solutions to be developed that cater for an increasingly connected customer base. As such, the blockchain is perfectly positioned for this. According to the United Nations, investment in the blockchain increased from $1 million in 2012 to $550 million by the end of 2016. Part of this growth can be attributed to the evolving technological landscape in Africa.

Ever since the advent of mobile communications, people have become less reliant on landline infrastructure for calls. Given how digital transformation is further adding impetus to a shift in use cases, the blockchain can help African CSPs meet specific requirements around how communication is taking place in a connected environment.

These various elements combine to require the development of a commercial solution that can assist operators to further develop and refine blockchain-related offerings that maintain their subscriber base while at the same time sees investment in their network.

For BSS providers, it is about investing in specific use cases of the blockchain as it relates to CSPs. For example, establishing a global marketplace addressing many of the challenges (and opportunities) in the sector will create more revenue potential for operators.

CSPs can become the backbone for this dynamic new blockchain economy. As the underlying foundation for all communication in Africa, they are in a strong position to drive a first-to-market advantage, develop new business models, and work with organisations of all sizes irrespective of industry sector.

However, to do so, they need to have a strategic vision in place for how they want to leverage the blockchain. Combined with a solid roadmap and collaboration with their partners in the BSS landscape, they can harness new opportunities and drive their business in the digital future.

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TikTok looks for SA talent

The fast-rising short-video platform has launched a #PickMe campaign to discover local stars.

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TikTok, which claims to be the world’s leading destination for short-form videos, launches its first PickMe campaign, an effort to discover creative talents and provide a stage to express themselves in South Africa. Starting March 1, TikTok kicked off a month-long search through participants’ 15-second videos under hashtag #PickMe.

TikTok says it is committed to investing in South Africa and discovering the local talents. The PickMe campaign is supported by its local partners like Huawei, MTV Base and Digify Africa.

Local stars, including comedian and singer Lasizwe and singer Nadia Jaftha, have joined the campaign and called for users to show their talents on TikTok.

There are 5 categories of video shooting in the campaign, namely dance, acting, comedy, singing and cosmetics. Participants need to shoot a 15-second video using TikTok using #PickMe and tag @tiktok_africa to participate in the challenge. The finalists will be selected based on their video performance. The most popular and talented participants will have the chance to win prizes like Huawei Mate 20 Pro smartphones, a day at MTV Base, and a once-off-presenter opportunity and attendance at an intensive video production workshop delivered by Digify Africa.

“TikTok has definitely evolved into something that everyone loves and uses. It’s given creators a space to create more unique content and also help the creator gain a whole new kind of fan base, ” says Preven Reddy, Imbewu The Seed TV-star and Megazone radio host who is also a TikTok user.

Says TikTok video creator Mihlali Nxanga: “As a young South African working towards being in the entertainment industry, TikTok has given me the platform to grow my following tremendously. Within 6 months, my fan base has grown by a whopping 90 000, and not only from South Africa, but the whole world. For me, TikTok is not just a content platform, it is a global community.”

The campaign will wrap up on March 31. The list of the finalist will be announced in the app and on official Instagram @tiktok_southafrica. For more information, please visit the TikTok app.

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Rugby fan experience transformed by digital platform

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The South African Rugby Federation has embraced digitalisation as a key enabler of its strategic aspirations. It has worked with Accenture to transform fan engagement for Springbok supporters with the launch of a digital fan platform.

“Digital technology and social media have transformed how modern fans watch, support and engage with their favourite teams,” says SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux. “To maintain our relevance amid this new market dynamic, and grow our fan base, we’ve acknowledged the vital need to digitally transform our organisation.”

Wayne Hull, managing director for Accenture Digital in Africa, says: “SA Rugby’s ambition to pivot to a more fan-centric strategy requires digital design, content, platforms and insights because modern consumers, including loyal Springbok supporters, engage predominantly via mobile digital channels and expect hyper-personalised experiences.”

Accenture Digital’s development process started with quantitative and qualitative research, which informed the user experience (UX) design guidelines and content strategy for the digital fan engagement platform.

“To know what fans want, we needed to understand the fans themselves,” says Hull. “The Accenture Digital team mined the research data and identified multiple fan ‘personas’, which all have different content consumption, platform functionality and engagement preferences.”

The platform development team focused on three critical elements to meet these requirements – the customer experience (CX), the engagement engine and cloud-based deployment.

“To deliver a memorable and engaging CX, Accenture Digital leveraged leading digital experience software,” says Hull. “The result is a fully integrated and responsive platform that creates seamless, personalised digital fan experiences across SA Rugby’s content, commerce and digital marketing initiatives in a manner that makes fans feel recognised and connected to the players and the game.”

The new platform will serve as the first point of call for any rugby fan who wants to get their data fix with exclusive statistics, analytics and insights. The platform’s content style will include more visual elements – videos and images – with more concise articles that are easier to digest, in accordance with evolving content consumption preferences on mobile screens. This will complement long-form thought leadership and insight pieces. 

In addition, fans will enjoy exclusive access to player-related content, such as behind-the-scenes footage and game and training performance stats. SA Rugby will also benefit from the ability to track comments and mentions via the Sitecore analytics platform Accenture Digital implemented, to respond and engage in the conversations Springbok fans are having on social media about the game, the teams or the players.

To do this, SA Rugby required a consolidated view of the customer. However, data resided in disparate sites across ticketing providers and SA Rugby’s e-commerce and online magazine databases. This information will be consolidated into the CRM system, with multiple integration points available to leverage this data.

The CRM system’s functionality will help to reveal insights such as fan communication preferences and their likes and dislikes, which will place hyper-relevance at the core of SA Rugby’s fan experience and engagement strategy.

 The final element in the platform development was cloud deployment, which allows fans to access the platform from any device that has an internet connection. The platform is hosted within the Microsoft Azure environment, which is stable, secure and fully redundant. It gives SA Rugby the flexibility to manage the platform themselves, with the option to integrate or scale additional functionality down the line.

Based on the outcome, Hull believes that Accenture Digital has successfully reimagined, built and delivered a world-class, modern and mobile-friendly digital fan platform that creates a fun, immersive and engaging experience for fans.

“It’s a major step towards helping SA Rugby realise its ambition to become a fan-centric, forward-looking and nimble organisation, and we look forward to building and developing the platform further with the team as their digital fan engagement requirements evolve,” says Hull

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