Qlink’s grand plan to decentralize everyone’s backend with blockchain

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ITEM: Singapore based startup Qlink is partnering with two Chinese blockchain startups to construct what it calls a “decentralized mobile network” – a term which here means a secure blockchain-based platform to underpin comms services such as Wi-Fi sharing, mobile data/SMS packages and billing.

The basic concept is to take an ‘asset’ – say, a Wi-Fi hotspot, a temporary LTE base station, a data plan, or a streaming movie on Netflix – create a digital identity for that asset, and share it on a P2P basis by using distributed ledgers to securely and accurately track their usage via smart contracts, and ensure that all asset owners are compensated for that usage.

To do this, Qlink is proposing to adopt a dual-blockchain architecture – assets such as Wi-Fi hotspots and service packages will be registered to NEO (a China-based open source blockchain similar to Ethereum), while the content and billing information will be registered to Qlink’s dedicated blockchain for the telecoms industry being co-developed by Qlink and Onchain. The chains will communicate via a cross-chain protocol.

So, users will be able to connect their digital assets to NEO, create their own billing terms through the Qlink app, and then sell access to other users or enterprise customers through smart contracts.

Applied to telecoms, Qlink is proposing to take the traditionally centralized assets of cellcos – namely, the backend stuff like billing, service plans and content packages – and move them to Qlink’s decentralized blockchain platform that by design is far more flexible than any cellco B/OSS – and, unlike cellco B/OSSs, can support the smart contracts necessary to make this work.

This would enable users to use a Qlink app to buy their own customized service plans as needed – if you want a Wi-Fi plan bundled with zero-rated Netflix and Whatsapp, for example, Qlink could slap it together for you, while the smart-contract technology keeps track of who uses what and ensures the asset owners get paid for that usage.

Speaking of which, asset owners would be paid in ‘QLC tokens’, the cryptocurrency that Qlink is planning to generate to fund the platform’s development and pay asset owners. (Qlink launched its presale for QLC tokens last week –  240 million QLC tokens are available during the token sale with a hard cap of $15 million.)

Are you getting all of this?

It’s a fairly complex idea – so much so that you’re probably better off reading this white paper [PDF], which gives more details on how Qlink is supposed to work and the kinds of apps and services it could support.

As for whether telcos would actually use it … well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

We do know that some telcos are looking at possible ways to make use of blockchain – to include as a payment settlement system. At the recent ACC event in Cebu, I spoke to one telecoms executive who told me that the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum is considering blockchain as a basis for a possible future platform for wholesale settlements. Carriers could create cryptocurrency tokens and use them for payments similar to the way they used to pay each other in SDRs. And a blockchain-based settlements platform could potentially reduce the perennial problem of revenue fraud.

It’s also no secret that telco backends are horrendously complex – so much so that most can’t support blockchain without the kind of serious overhaul that everyone knows needs to be done but is logistically impossible (or at least expensive) because of all the legacy systems that must be supported.

Outsourcing all of that to a decentralized blockchain – be it Qlink or another platform – makes a kind of sense from a purely technology point of view. After all, B/OSS outsourcing has been around for awhile now.

Possibly a bigger roadblock may be telcos worrying about losing customer relationships if customers start using a Qlink app to buy service packages (although Qlink says it will open its Qlink Chain API to allow developers to build their own service applications). Or perhaps the hard part may be getting end users to use such an app.

We’ll see. Qlink will start rolling out services in phases next year and aims to complete the network – including the cross-chain protocol – by the end of 2018.

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