AT&T has recently been awarded a patent for a bitcoin-powered subscriber server. The patent was filed quietly back in April of 2015 and was only granted last month by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). On the technical side, the patent is for a home base server of sorts, built to deliver multimedia content to subscribers. The server is powered by a bitcoin-based blockchain, a digital ledger that can administer and keep track of transactions on its own without any involvement from a bank. The system can even store bitcoins for later conversion into real money, essentially making it a one-stop shop for cryptocurrency transactions. The multimedia delivery bit, meanwhile, is likely tied to AT&T's multimedia efforts like DIRECTV NOW. This could mean that AT&T plans to offer paywalled or on-demand content to subscribers and accept cryptocurrency payments to do so. The server could also allow customers to pay their phone or cable bills with bitcoins, provided that AT&T wanted to enable such functionality.
The wireless carrier's patent application notes that it the bitcoin backend is used instead of its own blockchain built from scratch due to the large number of decentralized nodes that make up that blockchain, lending it extra security and making it easy to set up a customized server based on it. A bitcoin blockchain could potentially be used to process and secure payments not made with cryptocurrency, though that would take a lot of additional setting up and entail getting past a large number of regulatory, banking, and technical hurdles.
This server patent is not AT&T's first involvement in the world of cryptocurrency; another patent has been filed, though reportedly not granted just yet, for an in-car payment system that works on bitcoin. The purpose of this patent is a bit less clear; bitcoin has yet to catch on among the general public, and though just about everybody in the tech world has a hand in self-driving vehicles, the technology is not quite up to the level that it could be put out to the public just yet. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, tend to have their own payment backends that hook into larger operations like banks. One possibility is that AT&T is coming up with its own payment service that will use cryptocurrency or simply the technologies behind it, but that is pure speculation at this point. AT&T has yet to make any official announcements regarding these developments, while its rival carrier Verizon has recently filed for a similar patent, indicating that cryptocurrency may be a larger focus of U.S. telecom giants in the future.