Blockchain could be used to manage UK telephone numbers

Virtual Numbers /

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has given Ofcom £700,000 to research how blockchain technology could improve the management of UK landline telephone numbers.

Between now and April 2020, TTNC and other UK communication providers will be invited to work with Ofcom to trial the porting and management of telephone numbers using blockchain and ledger technology.

A Blockchain will allow us to create transactions (in this case, number porting) between parties and manage the lifecycle and ownership of any UK telephone number. Mansoor Hanif, Ofcom Chief Technology Officer, said:

We will be working with industry to explore how blockchain could make it quicker and easier for landline customers to switch providers while keeping their number – as well as reducing nuisance calls.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain uses open-source software code, and it was invented in 2008 to support the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. It is a growing list of records, called blocks which are linked using cryptography.

Blockchain has since evolved to support business needs; it can be used to secure ownership and the status of a digital asset (in this case, a telephone number) with a cryptographic key.

Every block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, transaction data and a timestamp.

Using blockchain will allow us to create transactions (in this case, consumer porting) between parties and manage the lifecycle of a telephone number, transforming data to support voice call routing and ownership.

What are the benefits of blockchain and this project?

There are approximately one billion landline telephone numbers in the UK, either already in use or reserved for allocation. Ofcom issues blocks of these numbers to providers like TTNC, who manage the allocation and movement (porting) of them.

Using blockchain could bring many benefits:
• Improve customer experience when moving from one provider to another.
• Greater transparency between service providers and users.
• Lower the regulatory and business costs associated with porting numbers.
• Increased industry agility and faster porting times.
• More effective management of nuisance calls and fraud.
• The number database can be replicated, allowing each user to have a copy.
• Updates can also be seen in real-time, by all users.
• Transactions and updates can be seen in real-time by all users.

Previous attempts to develop a centralised number database didn’t succeed due to high costs and issues with collaboration, but blockchain offers an opportunity for a feasible and long-term solution.

What happens next?

We will start working with Ofcom in the first half of 2019. The team here at TTNC are already familiar with blockchain technology, some of us have been using it for years. We’re looking forward to co-operating with Ofcom and other providers and developing new skills, that will hopefully lead to further innovation and broader uses of blockchain technology.

The knowledge and technology gained from this project will be one of the key long-term benefits for all the organisations that are involved.

Ofcom plans to share the code base, key learnings and best practices with other regulators, where they can, so who knows where this project will end up and the effect it will have on the entire industry, worldwide.