5G & Blockchain: The Duo That Will Change Society
Together, 5G and Blockchain technologies are on course to alter and disrupt industries, marketplaces, and society at large for the better. With some help from a third technology, IoT, these movements are going to change a lot. In fact, they already have.
The world becomes more connected every day as technology continues to advance faster. Our connection as consumers with the companies we patronize is growing. The connection we have with our employers is growing. Even the connection between us and our own homes is growing. As IoT evolves, more everyday devices are becoming connected. It’s not just our smartphone anymore. It’s our thermostats, our refrigerators, our vehicles… you name it. The internet and 5G technology are gaining momentum all the time and it’s changing the way we live our lives.
Blockchain is an equally disrupting technology that’s creating new marketplaces and facilitating new kinds of exchanges. Both 5G and Blockchain aim to fulfill their promise of securely connecting people with each other and with the world around them. Though separate, these two innovations have a synergistic relationship. For instance, 5G provides features that increase Blockchain take-up.
But 5G and blockchain are certainly not without detractors. Change and industry disruption are not always welcomed or understood. But it’s impossible to deny that changes are coming, and most of them are facilitated by 5G, Blockchain, and IoT. Let’s take a look at how all these technologies work together.
Blockhain Enables 5G
In 2018, 5G began to rollout. One of 5G’s main promises is to elevate IoT to new heights, using less energy to make an immeasurable amount of connections. Here are a few important points to remember about 5G cellular networks:
- Significantly faster speeds, making things like 8K video streaming possible.
- Much lower latency, allowing lightning-fast response times which will enable things like real-time transactions to take place.
- More devices become connected, everything from kitchen appliances to air quality sensors in smart cities and who knows what else.
5G aims to make possible 1 million+ connections per kilometer simultaneously. By using a radio spectrum with increased variety, it hopes to accomplish this as well as many other technological feats. But radio spectrum, by its very nature, poses challenges. In order for 5G to reach its potential, the way frequency resources are currently allocated needs to improve. This is where Blockchain technology comes in.
The way all the different frequencies within the wireless spectrum are currently used does not allow for much flexibility. But with Blockchains and AI, wireless devices would be able to make much more dynamic use of them. So much so that billions of devices could connect simultaneously to 5G networks. Blockchain is creating the next generation of identity management, cross-carrier payment systems, security, and billing. All this will allow providers to keep track of who has access to what, and render the whole process of connecting devices to each other more trustworthy and safe.
Blockchain Enhances 5G Security
When 5G devices and network equipment are associated with 5G networks AND Blockchain, faking a user’s or device’s identify will be impossible. Blockchain enhances 5G’s security capability and truly turns the networks into trusted data sources by giving machines, equipment, and devices secure identities. Once a device becomes part of such a network, it gains the ability to use cryptographically secured communications. Any outside device that interacts with it or with any associate network equipment also gains this ability.
As networks push forward to their goal of virtualization, Blockchain can act as a control panel for the network and remove so much risk. No more running on computing infrastructure that is standardized and cheap. Blockchain technology gives an enormous upgrade to both generic and custom hardware elements, private or not.
Blockchains also add immutability to 5G security, allowing for better, hacker-proof resource allocation and network design. This disruptive enhancement makes it virtually impossible for hackers to gain access to network equipment configuration or transaction records.
Blockchain Upgrades IoT Security
Imagine you have a Nest thermometer in your home (a device that operates via cloud-based services that stores its identity in a centralized database). The truth is that it’s only a matter of time before the database storing your device’s identity is compromised. But Blockchain’s decentralized architecture acts as a much more robust protection for device identity by using secure hashing algorithms and asymmetric cryptography. Devices receive guaranteed identity by giving them a Blockchain address that corresponds to their traditional registration. This decentralized identification is much more secure than the existing centralized infrastructure.
Many consider security to be the most significant hurdle that IoT has to clear in order for the technology to reach its economic potential. But the combined powers of 5G and Blockchain truly have the potential to be the catalyst to make IoT’s goals a reality.
Here are a few relevant points to remember about IoT:
- It will make storing data locally the new standard, instead of vulnerable, mass cloud-based storage.
- Better sensors will enable vastly more sophisticated, faster industrial processes.
- Greatly enhanced device intelligence will open up a world of possibilities.
Addressing Security Vulnerabilites
5G today still has some security vulnerabilities because it still relies heavily on 4G infrastructure; vulnerabilities that unfortunately still pose threats. Even Blockchains can’t (and shouldn’t) store everything. Local data, for instance, gets much too vast even for in-chain storage. This is where next-gen IoT devices come into play. The processing and storage capability and overall intelligence of connected devices today is enough to sort through data, store it, and transmit the meaningful parts.
So, as IoT advances, devices today will become an intermediate, local storage solution that inserts links to the data on-chain (including its hash). In fact, some decentralized solutions built with similar architecture already exist. IPFS (InterPlanetary File System), for instance. Once 5G is deployed fully, it’s all but guaranteed that Blockchain technology will secure identities and transactions, and provide support to traditional databases.
Mobile Edge Computing
5G has been incorporating elements of mobile edge computing for some time now. The smaller cells of 5G fit nicely into this computing architecture. The more operators that embrace this model, the more smaller computing facilities we’ll see. This will also lead to additional complex services that use IoT devices, also made possible by 5G’s end-to-end latency reduction. But 5G still needs Blockchain technology to address certain security challenges regarding low latency.
Consider autonomous vehicles. They require trusted data sources and, of course, low latency. But the concept of smart cities - of which autonomous vehicles are a part - is sensor-driven. As such, it needs trusted transmission and data sources. Blockchain-enabled 5G is perfect to drive such an endeavor.
Now consider something similar that uses an even older infrastructure, say, trains. Locomotive technology can also benefit from 5G in a similar way. In fact, they already are. In France, thanks to SNCF’s new 5G network abilities, their trains run almost 40% more trains on the same tracks.
One aspect of Blockchain technology that is very important to its relationship with 5G are consensus algorithms. If there’s a discrepancy in a sensor report, which happens often considering there are innumerable connected devices on any given network - that discrepancy must be dealt with. All of the devices need to “agree”. These circumstances are sometimes referred to as smart contract conditions or unsettled transactions. But consensus algorithms powered by Blockchain can settle these disputes faster than ever.
Complex processes (such as those involving autonomous vehicles mentioned previously) will need solutions like this in order to operate as 5G promises they will. Blockchain consensus algorithms will make the critical decisions and transact the value that is necessary.
5G Enables Blockchain
We’ve discussed how Blockchain enables 5G, but the enablement definitely goes both ways.
Blockchain has a scalability problem. The high reliability and low-latency nature of 5G technology provides Blockchain with much greater connectivity than it can manage on its own. 5G brings the security, responsiveness, and prevalence that Blockchain needs to cure the growing pain of scalability.
5G also enables Blockchain in another way. They make it much easier for tiny devices (like sensors) to implement the self-executing smart contracts that Blockchain promises. Because these smart contracts enforce the rules, so to speak, they allow distributed computing architecture to be fault-tolerant. But in order to do all of this, they need data access. And 5G low latency makes that possible, even in low-density areas.
5G Improves Blockchain Scalability
We mentioned it briefly above, but let’s get into a bit more about how 5G improves Blockchain scalability.
Even though the Blockchain movement has been growing and making waves for years now, it still has a scalability issue. Bitcoin (the most popular cryptocurrency) has already implemented multiple lightening networks in an attempt to address this issue. These lightening networks record transactions at a more frequent but smaller rate so all that needs to be recorded on the main chain is an aggregation of those transactions.
Another database technique called sharding has been used by other cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum. With the help of IoT, sharding has overcome some scalability challenges and developed Blockchains from the ground up (BigChainDB and IOTA were created this way).
This shows that, with only a little help from 5G, solutions are already being devised to conquer aspects of scalability in Blockchain. A thousand transactions per second is already taking place using this and similar database techniques. Secondary chains are on track to best this number soon. At these rates of improvement, it’s almost a certainty that 5G and Blockchain together will be able to race next to the rapid growth of IoT data as more devices connect.
The burgeoning IoT-infused economy is very fortunate to have two coinciding technologies, 5G and Blockchain, growing alongside it, providing the necessary coverage and scalability.
5G & Blockchain: The Duo That Will Change Society - Conclusion
It’s hard to deny that the recipe needed for IoT to take off has two main ingredients: 5G and Blockchain. The non-repudiability, immutability, and trust of Blockchain, as well as its secure machine identity are only a few of its attributes that will help IoT reach new heights. And the improved, pervasive connectivity of 5G will make it possible for IoT to grow smarter every day. All of this combined with the ever-improving storage and processing capacities of smart, connected, next-gen devices will lead to amazing things. The ability to program smart contracts, the emergence of smarter sensors, and improved industrial processes, to name only a few of the things to look forward to.