Next-generation 5G mobile networks are finally rolling out around the world, after years of promises and anticipation. And the pace of adoption is only set to accelerate; a recent report from Ericsson predicted that 65% of the world’s population will have access to 5G by 2025, with smartphone data usage shooting up to 24GB a month from 7.2GB a month now.
Compared with 4G, 5G is faster, more reliable, and provides greater coverage. At peak speed, it’s about 20 times faster than 4G, with a minimum peak download speed of 20 Gbps compared to 4G’s 1 Gbps.
5G is often spoken about alongside blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of a new stack of connected technologies that will revolutionize the workings of the Internet, and underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So what role does blockchain play in this brave new world, and how will it work alongside 5G technology?
Blockchain will protect the Internet of Things
The rise of 5G goes hand in hand with a boom in connected Internet of Things (IoT) devices; according to Ericsson, the number of cellular IoT will shoot up from 1.3 billion to five billion by the end of 2025, an increase of 285%. The term takes in everything from smart thermostats to autonomous cars, to water sensors for agriculture; essentially, any connected device that monitors its environment and communicates that data to people or other IoT devices. With 5G connectivity, these devices will increasingly talk to each other as well as to their users, in an ever expanding Internet of Things.
Darren Sadana, CEO of Choice IoT, an IoT management platform, told Decrypt that blockchain could prevent hacking, and predicts that most computer programming will transition to blockchain. “As 5G coverage increases and smarter applications are built that require complex and huge amounts amid data at high speeds, there is also going to be increased danger of hacking,” he said.
Take autonomous cars: in a recent survey by the American Automobile Association, nearly half (49%) of those polled wanted to know how vulnerable they are to hackers.
“This is where blockchain can help tremendously because of its advanced security,” Sadana said. “Even if a small part is hacked, it does not affect the whole program. In fact, most coding will move to blockchain in the future as it is more resistant to hacking,” he added.
A surge of economic value
Ayushi Sharma, a business consultant for iFour Technolab, told Decrypt that blockchain-based security systems could have significant usages in other areas of 5G enabled technology. The bandwidth improvements generated by 5G networks will allow IoT to expand into previously unavailable applications, leading to a “surge of economic value,” said Sharma, and reaching remote areas previously untouched by the internet.
Anything that relies on the quick, secure transmission of data over 5G networks would benefit from blockchain, Sharma claimed—for example, the field of robot-assisted surgery. Millions of devices in smart cities, which rely on the quick transmission of data, could also communicate with greater ease and security.
Professor Nir Kshetri, of UNC Greensboro, also believes that blockchain can be used to secure 5G itself. “Telecom companies can provide an eSIM (embedded SIM) or an app to a subscriber that creates a unique virtual identity that is encrypted and stored on a blockchain,” Kshetri said. This SIM security, like smart contracts, also has usages on e-commerce sites, similar to smart contracts: “Subscribers can use the unique IDs for automatic authentication on e-commerce websites.”
Joel McLeod, founder of Emerging Technology, an online forum for technologists, told Decrypt that, once the technologies converge, there will be “a significant increase in the global research spend on understanding the hybridization of new technologies, and a premium on the salaries of professionals are proficient in multiple technologies.”
Connecting the unbanked and underbanked
Richard Dennis, founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency temtum, is excited about the potential of combining blockchain and 5G for the financial world. “On the back end, 5G and blockchain offer the promise of a potent combination,” he said. Blockchain can secure mobile banking networks that “will have to secure transactions on a very granular level,” while 5G will make sure these complex networks don’t strain under the weight of blockchains.
It will be a major stride forward for both the unbanked and underbanked.
Dennis thinks blockchain and 5G could help out in developing countries: “If crypto networks can deliver payments solutions to these populations, it will be a major stride forward for both the unbanked and underbanked,” he said. He thinks this evolution in banking could be the first step towards much-needed changes for the developing world, including better and more reliable access to electricity and high-speed Internet, addressing the high fees associated with transactions and remittance payments, government corruption and economic volatility.
“If that’s all 5G ends up doing, it may be a greater leap forward than what has already been envisioned and promised by all those in the mobile industry,” he said.