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AT&T unveils edge-to-edge blockchain solutions for IoT - is it a winner?

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles September 30, 2018
IoT is a billion dollar opportunity for telcos. AT&T is betting that IoT + blockchain is the winning formula.

AT&T has become the latest tech giant to take the blockchain plunge. The telecommunication giant unveiled a suite of AT&T blockchain services for business last week at its annual Business Summit. The suite allows the company and its partners to provide complete industry-specific IoT solutions to customers by marrying AT&T’s massive connectivity prowess and industry-tailored IoT products with blockchain technology from IBM and Microsoft.

The goal, the company says, is to help customers reduce costs, risk and simplify business processes by creating a shared ecosystem across parties to exchange information in a way that is permissioned and highly secure. And, of course, to make a lot of money for AT&T.

Said Andy Daudelin, vice president, Alliances Business Development, AT&T Business:

Blockchain is far more than just Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. It’s transforming the way many companies conduct business. Blockchain improves security and enables better management of transactions through complex processes. Utilizing our global network and IoT capabilities, AT&T enhances blockchain by providing edge-to-edge solutions that automate the tracking and that can even monitor the environmental conditions throughout the process.

Working with IBM and Microsoft Azure's blockchain technologies, AT&T’s consulting team can design, deploy and manage the following blockchain solutions:

IBM Blockchain – AT&T Solutions can record data on the IBM Blockchain Platform, an enterprise-grade blockchain environment supporting numerous live production networks. Currently operating live blockchain networks at scale, IBM Blockchain supports a broad range of industry use cases including supply chain, provenance and logistics. AT&T said it was also integrating its AT&T Asset Management Operations Center with IBM Maximo Network on Blockchain and Maximo Asset Health Insights to create secure and accountable service provider networks for infrastructure asset management.

Microsoft Azure supports a wide range of enterprise ledger protocols including Ethereum, HyperLedger Fabric, Corda, Quorum and Chain, and offers topologies for dev/test, single member and multimember consortiums. AT&T said the integration of its IoT platforms would bring additional transparency and accountability to complex supply chains.

AT&T is hardly alone among tech giants in testing the blockchain waters. SAP launched its platform earlier this year, as did Oracle, and Huawei. IBM launched its blockchain platform in 2017, while Microsoft was ahead of the pack, starting adding modules in 2015, and launching to the public in 2016

Telcos have been paying attention. According to GlobalData, blockchain is a $1 billion opportunity for telecommunications companies. BT, Colt, HGC Global, Telefonica and Telstra are involved in a trial that uses blockchain for wholesale settlement while Verizon is an investor in Filament, a blockchain firm that eventually could help the carrier handle payment for drone delivery and monitoring services.

AT&T is initially targeting supply chain applications in industries including healthcare, retail, and manufacturing, but there are uses for the technology in nearly every vertical. Prime examples include utilities and energy companies along with governments and the military. One key use could track firmware updates pushed out to devices on the network which would greatly enhance security.

My take

Blockchain technology builds a digital, distributed record of transactions that create a shared environment for the secure exchange of information, with any permissions required to access the details included in the process. In this iteration, it provides permissioned access to multiple people while assuring auditability of that data. In that sense, blockchain seems to be an ideal solution for IoT, which involves billions of connected devices and sensors, most of which are invisible to the naked eye. AT&T enhances blockchain by providing complete managed solutions that automate tracking and can even monitor the environmental conditions throughout the process.

On the network level, AT&T already connects more than 44 million devices and sensors, about half of them in the automotive/transportation industry. At the platform layer, the company offers data management and device management. To update the firmware, for example, you need the tools and capabilities to collect data, orchestrate it between different devices and then send it to the cloud to the applications. AT&T does that.

Finally, on the applications layer, AT&T offers—on a selective basis—solutions that bundle the connectivity, the device and the hardware, the platforms and the set of applications for a single price and a single contract. The new blockchain offering is one more layer of icing on what is certain to be an attractive cake.

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