By now, most of us have heard about how 5G-driven services have rewritten connectivity standards and enabled innovation in both the technology and the kinds of services offered to customers. In many ways, these innovations have provided a foundation for new sectors in traditional markets and opportunities for cross-sector partnerships. Aside from the apparent changes in customer behavior, market attitudes, and trends that have shaped the future of infrastructure, services, and offerings provided, this new era is governed by one core factor: the user. A prime example of this is the blockchain industry.
A decentralized peer-to-peer system of digital ledgers of transactions and safeguarded records of information that eliminate the risks of hacking, third-party changes, or cheating. Reliant on an immutable cryptographic signature called a “hash”, governed by smart contracts (automated data chains) and trusted oracles (multiple sources feeds that report external data to smart contracts for verification to perform certain functions autonomously), cloud-native storage solutions, and decentralized apps managed by a predesignated number of parties within any industry. While most people may not associate blockchain with telco, the relationship is fundamental. Blockchains essentially create their networks through a variety of platforms designed for specific purposes.
Blockchain platforms are different but are all built on leveraging a variety of peer-to-peer solutions that emulate the vision of future 5G networks.
- Permission-less: public network in which both customer & provider data are publicly available, thus risking data privacy
- Permissioned: managed by an administrator with granted access to designated participants, and managed by a known administrator
- Consortium: a hybrid of permission-less & permissioned carried out by more than one administrator, emulating the kind of partnerships that exist today between service providers & operators
5G networks are built for device-to-device communication that impacts all digital technologies in the world of blockchain, crypto, and decentralized finance (DeFi). To equal measure, these new markets help shape the characteristics of future networks by influencing market demands and customer expectations. 5G rollouts dramatically improve wireless connectivity, low-latency exchange of large amounts of data through a variety of cloud-native software, and upgraded hardware that enables activities on mobile phones, IoT devices, and mission-critical devices alike. Quality service connectivity is critical with the increase in data traffic every year. The rise of digital platforms and digitized operations drives that load even further.
Blockchain in 5G holds a lot of opportunities for business within and outside of the telco ecosystem. While it may not be obvious at first glance, the 5G infrastructure for crowdsourcing, 5G infrastructure sharing (e.g. spectrum sharing), network slicing and management, and authentication of mMTC and uRLLC are among the most prominent examples of mutually beneficial relationships between blockchain and telco. Some of the fundamental tenants of digital transformation are the safeguarding of large amounts of sensitive and complex information, the valuation and monetization of data, and how to best ensure both the accessibility of data and optimizing the customer experience. In simple terms, that refers to the ownership and accessibility of data, automated troubleshooting of potential errors and potential breaches in data safety, and a user-friendly experience. These can be adapted differently depending on the industry, although decentralized contexts really boil down to one key component: the user. The user is the architect, consumer, and operator of the blockchain by creating, running, and monetizing on the network designed to serve a specific purpose. This begs the question as to whether current telco service providers are prepared to face or embrace this growing trend.
The People’s Network, or Helium Network, powered by the Helium Blockchain run by the recently rebranded Nova Labs Inc is one such use case of this. A decentralized wireless IoT network running on the LoRaWAN system, funded by both traditional currency (to set up hot spots called FreedomFi Gateways - after their 5G device manufacturing partner) and the Helium Network Token cryptocurrency on the platform (which can be turned into traditional currency through crypto exchanges). Network nodes are owned and placed by individuals to provide connectivity to IoT sensor devices in low-coverage areas operated by smartphones, turning the individual user into a patron network operator by way of small cell radio nodes. With the help of network slicing within 5G rollouts, which continually allows newer technologies to plug into different parts of the network infrastructure and run seamlessly, this disrupts the traditional business models used to run a network. The catch is that the more of these hot spots are set up, the more reliant these wireless systems are on infrastructure like cell towers in order to meet the increased load. While this all sounds like a novel concept for building partnerships between industries, the real game-changer will be in how network service providers respond to the growing demand for decentralized systems.