Blockchain and the IoT: the key to a truly smart society?

When you think of the internet of things (IoT), you may find yourself thinking about smart toasters and connected lighting, but most of us know there’s far more to it than that. Big data, cybersecurity and smart city projects across the globe have made IoT a hot topic, with many minds dedicated to solving its inherent problems and promoting its enormous potential.

In order to analyse and understand the data gathered from smart devices and sensors, of course, that data needs to be stored. The transparency of blockchain has made it attractive to verticals like the IoT, and can potentially be used to create everything from smart contracts to decentralised data streaming.

It is predicted that there will be 75 billion connected devices in the world by 2025, which will bring with them the same issues and concerns we have today unless new technology can be introduced to offset them. New innovations are touted everyday, obviously, but blockchain may be different.

As Dan Bieler, principal analyst at Forrester, writes in a blog post: “Blockchain can potentially add many benefits to IoT scenarios. Both – IoT and blockchain – are based on decentralised, distributed approaches; in combination, they potentially offer huge benefits from operational efficiencies to revenue generation.

“While these benefits will not emerge overnight, business and technology leaders need to acquaint themselves now with the possibilities as well as the challenges of blockchain technology in the IoT context.”

Rene Bader, manager for critical business applications and big data at NTT Security, told CryptoNewsReview “as some market commentators are claiming, the combination of blockchain and IoT will be the hot topic of the next few years, and some are already talking about a revolution in IoT”.

“The biggest problem will be the huge number of participants and their transactions. If, for example, you look at logistics test applications, in which the transported goods are equipped with transponders, transferring temperature and brightness levels of the environment into a blockchain application, a large number of bytes are quickly generated. However, a complete proof of compliance with the cold chain can also be documented.”

Security

The topic of cybersecurity is unavoidable when discussing smart cities and IoT, with many believing that the move towards a society reliant on data will lead to personal data becoming less secure or more vulnerable to exploitation by third parties.

A study conducted by Gemalto in 2017 revealed that a massive 96 per cent of organisations and 90 percent of consumers think there’s need for IoT security, and for government involvement. Concerns included hacker control (65 per cent) and stolen data (60 per cent).

“It’s clear that both consumers and businesses have serious concerns around IoT security and little confidence that IoT service providers and device manufacturers will be able to protect IoT devices and more importantly the integrity of the data created, stored and transmitted by these devices,” said Jason Hart, CTO, Data Protection at Gemalto, on the survey results.

This has been the central narrative for many years, as consumers become more savvy and distrustful of those in control of their personal information, and it is thought that the introduction of blockchain technology into the conversation may finally start to change that.

Talari Networks’ Atchison Frazer, comments that “discussions around the future of the IoT in sectors such as manufacturing often focus on the growing use of sensors, networked devices and smart grids, but the integration and scaling of these disparate technologies and systems present major challenges in trust and security… Enter blockchain technology, the fast-growing digital ledger technology, which records Bitcoin and other transactions chronologically and publicly.

“Blockchains are organically designed to be secure and inherently fault-tolerant. Unlike corporate databases, a blockchain isn’t owned by anyone… Blockchain’s immutability underpins many IoT innovations such as smart contracts and stable supply chains. While it is still mostly associated with cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, it has many other emerging applications across IoT.”

The key – as it is with any new technology – is experimentation, and the more voices that are part of that phase the better. Blockchain lends itself to collaborative innovation, but the technology is still in its early stages. That said, real world use cases are vast and varied.

Manufacturing and shipping industries in particular stand to be revolutionised by the tech, with improved workflow and real-time visibility as well as reduced likelihood of fraud and mistakes. Companies like Walmart in the US are already starting to apply blockchain technology to their current services.

Last month, Nokia announced that it would launch a new set of services to help form economical and environmental smart cities with its existing blockchain-powered Sensing as a Service (S2aaS) technology.

Asad Rizvi, head of global services business development at Nokia, said on the project: “Cities need to become digital in order to efficiently deliver services to their habitats. Smart infrastructure, which is shared, secure and scalable, is needed to ensure urban assets and data are efficiently used. We can help cities with that. In additional, we can help operators generate new revenue utilising their existing network by providing solutions for smart city players, such as city, transport, travel and public safety authorities.”

“It’s still early days for blockchain in IoT scenarios,” Bieler added. “While the potential is great, the technology is still in its infancy and real, larger use cases are scarce. That’s why experimentation and pilot projects are so important.”

For IoT to be a success, it seems that it must be allowed to evolve alongside other technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and – crucially – blockchain. We’re only now beginning to understand the potential of these new ventures, and we’d be wise not to misunderstand how they can work together to create something even greater.