IoT, 5G and blockchain — Revolutionary technologies or broken toys?

BuildValue Hub
6 min readJan 28, 2021

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When reviewing the white papers that usually come out around this time with predictions about the technologies that are going to “be in fashion” this year, it’s easy to find some technologies like 5G, IOT and Blockchain.

In fact, they’re practically the same ones that have been appearing on those lists for the last few years, but we do not find them as present in our daily lives as we might expect, so why do they continue appearing year after year? Do not they have become consolidated yet? Why these technologies have not exploded yet? Or the matter is that there are no use cases? The answer is that nothing could be further from the truth…

There are many cases in which these technologies provide a proven advantage. However, it’s necessary to understand that, no matter how much advantage each one of them provides, all of these technologies are closely related, and it’s not until the moment they are based on each other that we find those use cases that are really interesting and providing value.

But before going deeper into the subject, let’s remember some concepts, which although common sense, are usually forgotten.

  • At this point, we should already know that no technology is a panacea, nor does it solve all the problems, and that the correct technical resolution of a problem is usually based on a mix of technologies, each one with a specific purpose, and that correctly combined they solve the problem in the most efficient way. By the other hand, their incorrect use will only result in inefficiencies and loss of money (and trust) by the client.
  • Let’s also remember that a customer’s real problem is not usually the best place to “test” the capabilities of an emerging technology in a productive environment. These tests must be performed in the laboratory, under R&D, to ensure that any offered solution meets the specifications and requirements of the project.
  • Finally, it’s mandatory to remember that at a business level it’s essential to consider many more variables than the pure technical ones when approaching the design of a technological solution. It’s common to find innovative proposals with emerging technologies, which the client is hardly capable of assuming, either because outside the ideal case they don’t work as they should, or because there is still no community support, or simply because the future owners of that code cannot take over the maintenance/evolution of the project due to lack of knowledge of the technology (among many other reasons).

Returning to our subject, in this article we are going to focus on 3 of these technologies: IoT, 5G and blockchain.

In the case of IoT we have been hearing for several years the great revolution that it will mean for all sectors, and nevertheless the same IoT concept is already an almost obsolete concept and in disuse, giving step to other concepts as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things, or IoT applied to the industry), or IoP (Internet of Payments, consisting of payments M2M or machine-to-machine, and the natural evolution in the financial industry). However, none of them seem to have had the expected growth…at least for the time being.

5G is a much more modern technology, just recently implemented and whose birth has been splashed by not a few controversies, such as its possible carcinogenic effects, its committed implementation with Huawei hardware and its famous vetoes in many countries, but that has been sold to us as a technology that will allow not only to increase the speed of networks (with its multiple advantages for Augmented Reality Apps, real time applications, online games from mobile devices with imperceptible latencies, and more) but also to increase the number of simultaneous connections supported.

blockchain technology seems even more disappointing. Announced with great fanfare as the Internet revolution, allowing to replace the current Internet of information by the new Internet of value, and for which we only find a few use cases implemented in productive environments.

So, are not these technologies what they promised to be? Or do they bring no advantage?

The answer is that, of course, all these technologies are completely valid, but as we have previously advanced, they reach their maximum potential when they’re used together.

When thinking about IoT the first thing that comes to mind is a device with sensors that collect information, and the processing of such data. And although this approach is correct, the following question is unavoidable: How do we guarantee the veracity of that data? How can we be sure that the information coming from those sensors has not been altered? The answer is easy, relying on a blockchain that guarantees its integrity…

In the coming years we will see a lot of use cases in which these two technologies will be closely related. In fact, one of the main problems of blockchain technology for its detractors is precisely this, guaranteeing the origin and quality of the data. In this kind of system, in which the information is “dumped” into a blockchain network directly from the sensor, this problem is solved.

We have examples of this type in the motherboards made for different purposes by the research group BISITE (USAL), in which these motherboards automatically become a node in the blockchain network, removing all the intermediaries from the origin of the data to this network.

5G use cases are even more suggestive. Again, if we combine this technology, in this case with IoT, we get one of the clearest use cases, resulting in the sending of information from mobile devices in real time for monitoring and processing, such as from a car. Of course, there are already several initiatives in this direction.

If we also add other technology such as blockchain to guarantee the veracity and inviolability of the information, we can obtain business use cases as suggestive for the Insurance sector as the “dynamic insurance policies”. Insurance policies automatically managed by a smart contract and which allow to invalidate the policy if a user breaches any of the traffic regulations, such as driving at a higher speed than permitted on the road .

Let’s put it another way… How many runners come together in any of the famous marathons or classic fun runs? Hundreds? Thousands? Why not take advantage of the power thaat these technologies offer us together to guarantee the safety of all runners?

Intelligent textiles are no longer a matter of Sci-Fi. Without going any further, the same BISITE group mentioned above, which has won numerous international awards, has developed fabrics with sensors that allow, for example, heart rate monitoring.

In this way, it would be enough for a runner to wear a T-shirt with these sensors in order to be monitored. If all this information is transmitted using 5G technology, taking advantage of its aforementioned advantages of low latency, high bandwidth and number of simultaneous connections, and analyzed in real time, we could detect risks of heart attacks, automatically geolocate the person and even send the health services directly to the specific point, thus minimizing response times.

Why do we measure the steps and kilometers run by each runner but do not monitor their vital signs?

At this point we could talk about the investment needed to carry it out and the correspondent ROI.

If we leave aside the issue of marketing and its possible repercussions at the brand level, and focus exclusively on monetization, it would be enough to offer a product to those runners who are voluntarily interested in being monitored during the race, and then offer them all kinds of personalized and downloadable statistics, accessible online via web or App. Furthermore, a premium option could be included that would allow the possibility of contracting a microinsurance valid exclusively during the race, and with coverage for accidents during the course. These types of products are already on the market.

In this case, and in general terms, once the initial development of the product has been carried out, the necessary recurrence to make the business model sustainable would be obtained with the amortization in the successive races (whose only cost would be the infrastructure, processing and storage of information), while the cost per unit derived from the sensorized shirts would be passed on directly to the interested runner.

As we can see in this simple example, these technologies complement each other perfectly when they work together, and provide even more value than when they are separate. That is why we continue to bet on them as trends for the next few years, in which innovative solutions will surely come along that will take advantage of their synergies.

Although these technologies have promised to change the world, if they really will, only time will tell, but we are inclined to think that the advances of the next few years will prove it.

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