Non-profit group i3forum, an association focused on helping international wholesale carriers transform themselves and their industry, added its first Middle Eastern member earlier this month when Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) joined its ranks, interested primarily in the group's anti-fraud initiative.
The 12-year-old organization now totals 23 members, i3forum Founder and Chairman and Orange executive Philippe Millet said, in an interview with Broadband World News. That number, down from a high of 50 when participation was free, is the highest it's been since i3forum began charging a membership fee several years ago, he said. And that is due to the number of challenges wholesalers face when it comes to their own digital transformations, safety from fraud and forging partnerships, Millet said.
"We are all competing with each other, but at the same time we are all partners and customers of each other," he said. "This is really driving collaboration."
As wholesalers expand broadband via land, submarine and satellite systems, not only does their ability to deepen their services and customer base grow, but so too do the targets they present to potential attackers and others hoping to exploit wholesalers' systems for their own gains, Millet said. In some cases, attackers target wholesalers' networks; in others, they take over end-customers -- whether that's customer-facing carriers or consumers and businesses themselves.
The global telecommunications industry loses between $17 billion and $29 billion annually, according to a recently published report by ThreatMatrix.
Some of this fraud enters via common back-end infrastructures wholesalers use to communicate with each other, Millet said. By working together and using modern approaches such as virtualization, open source and blockchain, i3forum members can combine resources to create a platform that's more efficient and effective at preventing fraud, he said.
"This is not really digital transformation, but it is something that is impacting everybody and the pain is getting more and more real. It gets more understandable to work together. There are gaps and holes in [the system]. That creates disputes, opportunities for fraudsters that are much better than us at exploiting this," said Millet. "We thought by putting our resources and expertise toward this we could create a platform. If you go back to what we do really, it's about interconnecting operators and ensuring interoperability and ensuring interoperability of services. That's what it's all about and it's not going to go away."
The i3forum is creating a service through the collaboration of many members that it plans to announce in June. The platform, which an as-yet-unnamed vendor will operate, will allow operators to benchmark themselves in "an anonymous, safe and confidential way," against the rest of the industry, he said. Although a few commercial offerings exist today, i3forum's will be more complete, given its wholesaler-design, as well as less expensive and free of "commercial aspects," Millet said.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.