In the mobile telephone market, number portability is an increasingly vital service: competition among operators is at the base of increasingly aggressive and tempting tariff plans and telephone offers, which consumers associate – as a key element in subscribing – with maintaining their own mobile phone number. To be effective, the number portability process must be as fast as possible, ensure maximum privacy and, even in a short amount of time, manage all ancillary activities such as the transfer of the remaining credit from one operator to another. Number portability, besides being extremely favorable to the final consumer, is also a core factor in the competitive sphere: if it were absolutely necessary to change number in order to change operator, the proliferation of offers and counter-offers that populate this market daily would certainly not be so high.
How number portability works
At the moment, the number portability process, which involves the two operators (defined as Donor and Recipient) and the control bodies, is rather complex: the European consumer contacts the Recipient operator, who makes the number portability request together with the activation of a tariff plan and provides the customer with a new SIM that will be operational after the shift, the timing of which varies from one country to another. In Italy, the procedure should be performed, barring delays, in one working day, or 3 at most, and without costs for the consumer, unless there is a transfer of prepaid money from one operator to another, in which case a small fee may be charged. Technically, the system is rather slow and complex because on one hand a shared international standard is not active, on the other because it is based on a centralized database (CDB) for all operator changes that interfaces with different local databases, which leads to delays caused by alignment and potential errors. But the most important limitation of the system is the fact that it can neither handle more than a certain number of requests per unit of time, nor cases of extremely complex porting between different operators.
Blockchain for number portability: privacy and security
In the number portability process, Blockchain can be a solution to all the limitations of the current system. As is well known, blockchain takes the form of a transaction register that is distributed among all network nodes, which in this case are the actors involved in the process, therefore mainly the Donor and the Receiver, as well as the authority and the final consumer. Applying Blockchain in this area is possible since the request for number portability can be considered, albeit in a broad sense, a transaction that is proposed, validated and recorded on the blockchain network. In practice, by applying the blockchain functionalities, the customer could directly request the operator shift through a simple web interface and such a request would generate a transaction capable of including all actors mentioned above. This request, if approved, would result in the creation of a block and the instant and joint update on all databases, which according to the blockchain model are distributed over the entire network and are always aligned with one another.
The benefits of blockchain in the number portability process
If correctly implemented through blockchain network, the number portability process could offer several benefits compared to the traditional approach: the speed would by far be the most relevant one for both Telco companies and end customers, since transactions could be managed and validated in a very short time. All criticalities due to database alignment, from delays to potential errors, would also be eliminated. Smart contracts could, on their part, immediately execute economic transactions between operators, as in the case of prepaid money transfers from one operator to another. Furthermore, another very important aspect – which not by chance is a pillar of blockchain network – is security by design, which translates into privacy and confidentiality for end consumers; in fact, using a peer-to-peer network would eliminate the classic single point of the failure problem, since all actors involved would have an updated database in which validated data can no longer be modified. The immutability of data, at the base of the concept of trust that distinguishes blockchain networks, could have an even more central role in the context of number portability, since it would lead to a renewed confidence on the part of consumers and more agility for the companies involved.
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