Blockchain investments have long ceased to be the preserve of the fintech industry, having branched out over the past 2 – 3 years to different industries including health care, real estate, insurance, retail, and education to name a few. The telecom and Internet sectors are no exceptions. Focusing on the telecom space, we find that we are in the very early stages:
1- The VC arms of telecom service providers began making investments in blockchains as early as 2015.
2- Blockchain investments remain sporadic and limited to a few telcos in consortium with other investors.
3- The type of investments vary among different applications albeit a preference to invest in complementary solutions.
- Through its venture arm, NTT Docomo co-invested with Japanese banks to fund research towards blockchain-based financial services.
- Orange Digital Ventures invested in Chain (Sep. 2015, $30 total with other investors).
- Orange Silicon Valley set up ChainForce to target collaboration with startups and bring blockchain-based solutions relevant to its ecosystem.
- SoftBank founded the Carrier Blockchain Study Group (CBSG) with Sprint (joined later by FarEasTone) to collaborate on blockchain applications for connected computing, personal authentication, and debt resolution.
- SoftBank used a platform by TBCASoft to test mobile payment and recharging of prepaid phones across different carriers.
- Swisscom established Swisscom Blockchain Ltd. to develop applications and provide other blockchain-related services (Sep 2017).
- Telstra Ventures invested in several enterprises, many of which are fintech ventures, developing solutions based on blockchains.
- Telstra experimented with blockchain for IoT security.
- Verizon Ventures invested in Filament along with Samsung Venture and Bullpen Capital.
- Filament developed a decentralized IoT network stack to allow any device to connect and transact independent of a central authority. Blockchains used for authentication (decentralized endpoint address resolution) and accounting.
Aside from making financial investments, a few telcos are experimenting or partnering to bring about blockchain-based solutions.