The Fascinating world of Blockchain!

Sachin Mahajan, MobileLIVE

In the early 1900’s if Henry Ford asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. Essentially, proving the point that the consumer doesn’t really know what transformatory customer experiences could be! Secondly, people care little about the technology powering these very iconic experiences.. However, the markets do- evident by the ballooning value of bitcoins, hitting a record high post Trump’s election to the White House. The point being- wall or no wall, money has to be remitted across the border and people will find alternative and efficient ways (Bitcoins), when the traditional routes are blocked or taxed.

Before jumping into the nitty gritties of blockchain, let’s ensure we are all on the same page.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is the brainchild of a group of people (or a person) that go by the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto.

  • It is an incorruptible digital ledger of transactions that can be programmed to virtually everything of value.
  • It’s a shared view of the current state of a marketplace, and the history of all transactions that led to that current state. In plain English it would translate to, “If your assets are on a blockchain, no single company or operator can take them away from you”
  • This Shared Ledger can also be described as transactional database.

The key advantages being its robustness, transparency and flexibility over traditional “disparate” ledgers. Blockchain is ideal for applications with the following characteristics: Have multiple writers, Need immutable and traceable history, have a high degree of transparency, Limited trust between participants and are transactional in nature.

The market excitement is surely intense, based on the ~$2B investment pouring in from the entire spectrum of institutions; Amex to Goldman Sachs to Deloitte:

What are Bitcoins?

Its a type of digital currency, created and held electronically. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world. However, bitcoin’s most important characteristic, and the thing that makes it different to conventional money, is that it is decentralized. No single institution controls the bitcoin network; and the transaction history is stored on a shared ledger i.e. blockchain providing the required transparency.

What are other use cases of Blockchain outside bitcoins?

I found it rather fascinating, when a Sr. Analyst recently said to me, “We have an amazing solution in blockchain, we now need to find a problem to solve”.  We had a great discussion following it, and came up with some of the following use cases which were absolute no brainers: Guaranteeing Digital Identity, Recording IoT transactions, Validating health records and land registries.

  • Internet of Things (IoT) payments and traction: shared ledger (blockchain) may allow machine-to-machine authentication and micropayments and continuous traction of transactional activities. An algorithm could be used to broker an arrangement for a room rental as a smart contract, with the smart lock on the front door being provided instructions to open when the renter arrives. Money would be held in escrow by blockchain and funds released on fulfillment of the contract. This dis-intermediates not only digital banking companies but also Airbnb
  • “Proof of provenance” provided by shared ledger can be used by insurance companies as a source of reliable information about the history, reliability and origin of a document, digital good or physical good with digital credentials.
  • Blockchain could also unlock the ability to provide, “Certification of identity attributes and credentials” (e.g. name, address, age, phone number) on shared ledger (blockchain) system which is absolute necessity currently.

Einstein famously once said,”If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” Thanks to blockchain those facts might not be easily swayed anymore!

PS: Views are my own, and not necessarily my employers. Feel free to contact me from my Home Page

Key Issues Plaguing Digital Identity Services

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Sachin Mahajan, (TELUS & MobileLive)

The Internet without high assurance identity services is akin to a house without plumbing and electrical wiring. As we collectively start launching services (Mobile Connect, Identity Verification & others) the hope is we build a strong foundation to allow Digital Banking, IoT and other services to unleash their true potential with a friction-less user experience.

From my perspective here are the top 3 issues with Identity today:

Issue #1: None of the existing products largely address the markets needs

In February of this year, I went to Barcelona to attend MWC, where over 150,000 telecom professionals from around the world congregated. It was the perfect place to discuss the latest developments and trends in Digital Identity & IoT.  I had one evening free to myself, so I decided to walk around the city. Given Barcelona’s reputation, right before I left my hotel room I took all my important identity documents i.e. passport, credit card, driving license and locked them up in my room’s locker….and dually walked out with my prepaid euro chip and pin card. So the point being the things that were important to me were locked up in my room- safe and secure, as they should be but I had no access to them….which is the exact issue or problem with the digital world.

Issue #2: There is an immediate need for a High Assurance or Trustworthy Digital Identity solution

Often done to death, but worth a quick mention is the fact that the terms “digital world” vs “real world” are becoming so intertwined that soon we will be unable to distinguish between them. Terms such as “Away from Keyboard” (AFK) might become more prevalent. Given that I sleep with my cell phone 3 feet away from myself…AFK never really happens, until and unless my device runs out of battery these days.

Issues #3:  We want everyone else to provide their police clearance certificates to prove their identity in the online world but do not want to do the same at their end.

An interesting episode from my life a few months back, highlights the most important issue I believe plagues our digital world. I have a 10 year old niece, and she and I discuss all things important. She along with her friends were setting up a musical concert in the neighborhood and wanted to promote it online. In a bid to engage more people she was contemplating discussing it on 2-3 chat groups, which she thought were relevant. The moment I found out, I told her she had to keep 2 things in mind:

  1. Not to trust people in chat rooms. They could very well be perverts, criminals, frauds, cheaters or who knows what
  2. Giving out real name and contact information was an absolute No No

Here in lies the paradox…we want others to provide all their identity related information, but do not find the web safe enough to share our own….. this is a log jam!

PS: The intent of writing this quick piece is to engage my stakeholders, so please comment and help me better understand your needs.

Digital Identity: Peeling back the onion…..

Sachin Mahajan, (TELUS & MobileLive)

Five months of heading the portfolio and it is becoming glaringly evident that “Digital Identity” has dramatically different affect on people. For a large majority it seems to be the code word for “now the eyes glaze over and I read emails” but every now and then I run into a handful of others whose ears perk up and a warm smile engulfs their face saying, “about time someone did something about it”.

What is Digital Identity?

There are way too many definitions & perceptions about digital identity, which partly is the problem.  For me, it is as simple as “a mechanism for an individual or a business entity to identify themselves on the internet with some level of assurance (trust).”

Some of the others include:

  • Digital Footprint left behind when one surfs the internet

Companies such as Google and Facebook create online profiles of people to provide a focused, relevant and contextual experience. For e.g. if I searched google images for the key word “Jaguar”, I would instantly be shown images of a car whereas my wife would be shown images of the almost extinct Panther species.

  •  Online persona adopted or claimed by an individual.

I came across a company from the UK, whose tag line is, “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting’”.  It is somewhat of a controversial app that updates an individual’s Twitter feed in the same style as they would normally tweet. In essence ones digital persona would continue to live even beyond the grave. A very interesting thought indeed.

  • It comprises of characteristics, or data attributes, such as Username and password, Date of birth, Social security number etc.
  • And a million other BORING definitions

Why should one care about it?

Two simple reasons: Economics and superior quality of experience!

  • Did you know that MasterCard and Visa charge anywhere between 1.5-3.5% of the transaction value in the physical world vis-à-vis 6-9% in the online world!!! The reason for the disparity is as simple as the inability of companies to authenticate people digitally in a secure, reliable & robust manner!
  • Did you know that between Google, Facebook and other online giants, they collectively make an average of $200-250/North American broadband user annually? What that means is that “Digital Identity” has let them unlock $50+ Billion of annual revenue….and growing!
  • Did you know in 2012, the average cost of recovering from identity fraud was upwards of $20,000 with almost 50% people admitting that if their identity was stolen they would not have the means to manage the recovery process

What are the different levels of assurance of digital identity?

The following chart helps provide a framework to begin to better understand and categorize the various levels of assurance & Strength of Authentication across multiple digital channels:

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Source: Consult Hyperion/Telus

Levels of assurance:

  • Level 1 – Little or no confidence in the asserted identity’s validity an example of it would be registration requests on a news website
  • Level 2 – Some confidence in the asserted identity’s validity
  • Level 3 – High confidence in the asserted identity’s validity to enable accessing sensitive personal data online
  • Level 4 – Very high confidence in the asserted identity’s validity. A typical use case would be providing remote access to a law enforcement database

Digital identity is evolving quickly and is becoming a key enabler across multiple portfolios; be it IoT, Security, mobile wallets or e-commerce.  Consumers are being presented with a greater variety of low assurance authentication methods as the competition to become the de facto identity provider among some of the world’s biggest companies is heating up (Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon etc.). On the other hand Telcos(AT&T, TELUS, Vodafone, O2), Banks and Governments are focusing on higher assurance authentication methods, where its imperative to know the identity of the person on the other end (Medical Insurance, Drivers license renewal, Access to medical reports, Registry services etc.)  It clearly is a fascinating space right now and I can’t wait to see how we help it evolve over the next few years!

 


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M2M on Wheels

Sachin Mahajan (ex-TELUS, MobileLive)

I came to Canada in 2004 and bought a car a year later. Even though I had been driving accident-free for 9 years in two other countries, insurance companies here treated me as if I was a complete novice on the roads. My monthly insurance premium was $700, higher than my monthly car payment. It took me 10 years of fault-free driving – not a single speeding ticket and no accidents – to get my premium down to about $160 a month.

UBI

How M2M & UBI are lowering insurance premiums:

If Sachin Mahajan arrived in Canada today, he’d have another option, thanks to a Internet-of-things (aka as Machine to Machine) technology called User Based Insurance (UBI). Very simply, the insurance company would give me a small device to plug into the diagnostic port of my car. This device would monitor how and when I drive and upload the data to the insurance company.

Then, instead of basing my premium on their generic profile of a young man living in a large city, they could have based it on real information. The UBI device would have told them that I don’t exceed the speed limit and hardly ever drive during rush hour. Those two factors could have reduced my premium significantly. The company might also have been able to tell me, for example, that if I started braking sooner than I usually do, I could lower my premiums even further. And if I started doing more rush hour driving, they could have suggested that I avoid certain times on the road.

Some Canadian insurance companies have been offering UBI for a while now, promising potential savings as high as 25%. It’s just one example of how IoT is giving organizations access to information they simply didn’t have before, and how this information is allowing them to change the way they do business.

UBI wireless connectivity:

Like other M2M solutions, UBI depends on wireless connectivity to work. But even though 4G wireless is available to almost the entire population – TELUS Communications has Canada’s largest 4G network, reaching 98% of the population1 – some insurers have been offering UBI on older technology. There’s one that’s even using 2G.

The 3 phases of the connected car:

However, it’s important to ensure that solutions are future-proof and operate on a network you’ll be able to rely on for many years to come. That’s because the connected car has arrived and with it, M2M solutions that are literally changing the way people and cars interact. Phase 1 of the connected car started with basic integration between your car and your wireless device, allowing you to play music or talk to people using your car stereo, via Bluetooth. Phase 2 includes GPS directions, locking or unlocking your car, getting remote diagnostics etc . Phase 3 will be even more exciting.

Soon, your car will do more than tell you when it needs servicing. It’ll be able to make the appointment for you, and remind you to take it in. Your car will also become its own wireless hotspot, allowing you to work anywhere on your Wi-Fi enabled tablet or laptop, or stream music directly to your audio system without going through your smartphone. Most of these new technologies will require 4G or 4G LTE connectivity, so why would you limit the possibilities by going with an older wireless technology?

How M2M can save millions:

Actually, Phase 3 is already here in some ways, and there’s one example that demonstrates  the art of the possible. A while ago, Tesla, the leading electric car manufacturer which incorporates a ton of IoT Sensors in each car, needed to change one of the features accessible to owners. This feature allows the driver to lower the car for better aerodynamics, but at its lowest level, the vehicle was more susceptible to hitting objects in the road. Traditionally, a fix would have meant a recall that could have cost millions. But Tesla simply issued an online update that was fed to every car when the owner plugged it in for overnight charging. Within a day or two, and at minimal cost, the lowest available level on every one of those cars was half an inch higher. You can read about it here.

Looking at it from the point of view of a technology enthusiast, the connected car platform is a dream come true, made possible by the incredible advances in M2M technology and capabilities. We, at MobileLive, predict that in the very near future, we’re going to see things most people can’t even imagine now. (connected homes, wearables etc)