opinion


Digitising telecoms assets with NFTs

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Maria Lema, Co-Founder of Weaver Labs explores the potential of non fungible tokens in the management of public telecoms assets.

Leveraging the benefits of advanced wireless connectivity in cities is crucial for unlocking uncovered economic, social and environmental value. But in order to achieve ubiquitous connectivity, some obstacles still stand in the way. This includes access to existing infrastructure, the high cost of infrastructure investment, and the ability to leverage existing street furniture.

In order to combat this, it’s time to explore the role of public assets when building wireless networks, including the benefits of digitisation and how to make assets more accessible to build telecoms networks. With street lamps, bus shelters, traffic lights, CCTV poles and ducts all publicly owned assets, they are managed and controlled by various public bodies such as Highways England and local authorities. Looking ahead, it is these assets which will play a critical role in deploying cost-effective telecoms networks at an accelerated pace.

Challenges for telecoms providers 

We’re aware of the assets available, but there are still challenges for telecoms providers who want to access these assets to build advanced wireless networks (wifi, IoT devices or even 4G/5G small cell radios).

Firstly, poor visibility and lack of accurate data are drawbacks when it comes to gauging suitability and ownership. In an ideal world, telecoms network providers would be able to mount antennas on top of buildings, traffic lights or street lights without the existing complexities. In the same way, fibre cables – a key component in wireless infrastructure – are deployed using ducts, and those are usually not inventoried- it’s difficult to know who owns them and how to access them.

Tackling those specific challenges will help infrastructure providers access the assets they need to build networks faster. In turn, this will support the public sector asset owners in harnessing connectivity and therefore generating income too.

Leveraging NFTs to unlock digital value 

To make public assets discoverable and accessible, digitisation is required. The process of digitising assets involves collecting asset attributes in a digital asset management platform, to almost create a digital twin of each asset. Following that, the rights can be converted into a digital token on a blockchain network. These ownership rights can then be traded on a digital platform, making assets such as traffic lights or lamp posts digitally accessible. In turn, they have commercial value.

In terms of the wider supply chain, these NFTs (non fungible tokens) can record and guarantee provenance to add greater value, allowing businesses to also trust the origin of a commodity. Every public asset will have its own NFT which is transferable to other members of the supply chain according to the terms of trade that are set: for example, renting out a lamp post for 12 months to a network provider at £50 per month.

Creating an open marketplace 

On the whole, collecting the right data is an integral part of adding value to the public sector. By creating digital twins, friction can be removed from the process to facilitate the introduction of wireless infrastructure. Collecting this data can cut two thirds of network planning time, add a commercial layer to the process (with the use of NFTs) and develop an open marketplace where it takes 90% less time to deploy future infrastructure.

Looking ahead, with increased public interest in publicly owned assets, we expect to see digital twins converted into NFTs where they are given value and a unique code for trading on an open marketplace of telecom assets. We would also like to see further backing from the government on this, following DCMS’ multi-million pound commitment to ‘Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Acceleration’. The UK government should now invest in piloting digital asset management platforms to enable local councils to more easily share data and both parties to commercialise those assets in the most effective and innovative way.

 

Maria Lema is a PhD in Telecoms and Co-Founder of Weaver Labs, a tech start-up innovating in the telecoms industry. She’s also an ambassador of Wagora, a Women in Tech society. After a short life as a researcher, Maria joined the team at King’s College London to work at the 5G Tactile Internet Lab powered by Ericsson. She led projects and teams working on connectivity solutions to real-life business problems: from transmitting the sense of touch to doctors while teleoperating, to connecting different musicians around the world to give the audience a different concert experience. She met her co-founders in the 5G Lab and they decided to start a new journey together, creating Weaver Labs. Here, she bridges the technical development and solutions the team develops with the commercial side.


2 comments

  1. Avatar Ammar 30/12/2021 @ 6:24 pm

    Interesting idea but I think the writer is focusing on the wrong issue. It is not the ambiguity in ownership or the complication of contract between parties, that has prevented CSPs from using public infrastructure. There are some practical constraints that stand in the way.
    First of all you require access to both power and fibre at the desired locations and they are not available everywhere. You also have to worry about the health and safety issues. Another important aspect is the disruption associated with road or lane closures. The access to the roadside infrastructure will have to follow the appropriate governance and procedures. This means that we need specialist approved contractors and ultimately it will inflate the implementation costs and timescales.

  2. Avatar aniva 04/01/2022 @ 1:39 pm

    Good point Ammar, and this is because these assets are not digitized either. You can buy soda pop for crypto and transaction will be reflected in the block chain but if you get poisoned, block chain can’t help there will be legacy processes involved in your medical treatment and litigation, but this doesn’t negate using crypto to pay for the soda, so Maira’s idea is just a first step in the right direction and she is focused on issue that can be helped, the right issue, rest will come with time and more innovations

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