Innovation from the phone box

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In conversation with Hugo Feiler, co founder and CEO

Do you remember the public phone box? Beloved of Dr Who and his Tardis, the humble phone box is fast disappearing from our topography as mobile devices remove the need for public phones.  In some places, local communities have converted these iconic pillar boxes into unusual new uses such as public libraries and book sharing hubs or even temporary housing for the homeless. But sometimes we can learn from the past as well as the future. Consider the original function of a phone box. The telephone user would insert a coin required to make a call.  The phone box would mechanically confirm that the coin presented was legal tender and the required size and shape. Once checked the user then dialled the number and was connected.  The call would run for the required time and then more coins were requested or the call disconnected.

What is interesting to this article is that telephone box did not need to know who the user was. It did not need to know who they were. It did not need the address, bank account or credit history. It just needed to authenticate the coin.

Enter the digital world and things got a whole lot more complicated. In order to set up a backend billing functionality, using legacy banking system, the telephone provider needs to do a background check on the new user just so they can be sure the bills will be paid. The shift of authentication moves from the payment to the person.

Today these systems are creaking, slow and no longer fit for purpose.

So, let’s revert to a token or the concept of a coin from the original public phone box.  If you have a blockchain node on your phone and your friend has a node on theirs you can connect directly. You can purchase some tokens and use those to send data to the other node without any third party interference.

Also, if you want to give someone some tokens to ring someone else, you can just send them tokens. The authentication remains with the token not the user. This simple task is not possible with current telecom systems. In order to give someone credit, you need to set them up as a family member or create a company account. It is not simple.

Let’s now look at the next extension of the telecommunications world – the introduction of 5G. 5G is going to be faster, more secure and will pretty much replace our current system of wifi. In the 5G world, connected devices will be sim enabled. However, to connect these devices, via the current legacy systems, to the 5G will cost money, approximately £6 ($10) per device per year. This is a cost to the Telco which will be passed in turn to the users,

There are many ways devices can be used, for example in the insurance industry. Perhaps a homeowner might be asked to install auxiliary heat sensor devices in order to deliver a better value premium.  They might be asked to provide 50 – and at $10 a pop this would be prohibitively expensive. What instead if there were Minima nodes on each device, so they cost nothing to populate the system. Instead the devices would be activated using tokens where the nodes would send data between devices at no cost.

For Telcos there are three main reasons why this approach is exciting. Initially, there is the ability to process customers much more efficiently, secondly there is the innovation opportunity when customers convert to 5G. Finally, and more importantly, there is an ability for Telcos to grow their business in new areas.  No longer a mere pipe, Telcos can own the relationship with their customers and facilitate value transactions into other verticals like utilities or automotive – perhaps even those sensors. It’s an open public telephone box.