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.
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.
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.
Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008
Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.
The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.
On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.
Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.
Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.
While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.
Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.
Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager.
The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.
A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.
Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery
Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.
“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.
Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”
Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.
Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”
Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.
“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”
* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on email@example.com.