Chinese state-owned telecommunications company, China Telecom has revealed plans to develop blockchain-enabled 5G ready SIM cards, according to Chinese website Sina News.  

China Telecom’s research arm released its white paper detailing its plans at the China International Smart Industry Fair on August 27. In that paper are details of a SIM-card that will have support for Ethereum and ERC20 tokens, and be compatible with all types of smartphone. The paper also outlines plans to turn a smartphone into a decentralized node, helping to create a more secure network each time someone buys a device. While that’s good news for people looking to buy and sell crypto on their phones, China Telecom is eyeing a far bigger prize: 5G. 

China, and Chinese companies are expected to invest up to $411 billion in 5G over the next 10 years, according to a research paper by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.

The 5G era will bring a deluge of data, as millions of IoT enabled and other devices take advantage of the new bandwidth. It also brings security and privacy fears: With more data comes more opportunities for prying eyes. Even though China has a hardline stance towards crypto, its state telecoms provider is betting big on the potential of the tech to enhance privacy and security in the 5G era. Blockchain, the paper suggested, is the only technology that can enable users to secure their data in the coming 5G era, regardless of the data’s volume, variety or dimension.


The whitepaper detailed some of the applications a blockchain-powered phone could have: digital identity authentication, enabling users to rely on decentralized identification instead of usernames and passwords; data ownership, which enables users to share data with their financial services providers, and use within a supply chain, where the phone acts as a node to relay data. It didn’t give a timeline of when the SIM cards would be ready for market. 

While the paper serves as a tantalizing look into the future of smartphones, it made a point of criticizing the poor technical performance of existing blockchain phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S10, and HTC’s Exodus One. The paper accuses Samsung and co of playing to the crypto markets by favoring the incorporation of certain blockchains (e.g. until recently, Samsung hadn't included the ability to use Bitcoin, only Ethereum) rather than achieving a high technical standard.

China Telecom evidently believes it can do better. But the telecom giant’s dreams of privacy-enhanced phones may not have a home in a country where privacy is policed.

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