It has been interesting to say the least to monitor the growth of 5G, IoT and blockchain as independent technologies. Indeed, these are three pre-eminent technologies that will shape our future and the future of the internet, which apparently will be dominated by algorithms.
Therefore, it is difficult to talk about 5G, IoT and blockchain only in terms of how the first two impact the latter. This is because all three are designed to work in synergy with each one affecting the other. What potential does a merger of the three emerging technologies hold?
Perhaps the biggest technological wave sweeping the world right now is the adoption of 5G, the latest cellular network technology. Experts and laypeople alike have waited for this for a long time. While global 5G coverage is expected to be implemented in 2020, already, certain companies have begun making their own provisions.For example, Verizon already lays claim to 5G coverage in about 19 selected US cities, with more to come through to 2020.
The implication of 5G technology is pretty much obvious, at least on a basic level. If 4G long-term evolution was great, 5G is greater: The newer network technology can transmit data at upwards of a whopping rate of 10Gb per second compared to 4G's 100Mb per second. It will ensure faster internet, lower latency and greater interconnection (capacity for more connecting more devices at once).
These advantages put IoT devices at the fore of beneficiaries of this new technology – especially smaller, low-powered devices. Higher speed means faster transmission of data over networks. Also, 5G's superior interconnection means many more IoT devices would be able to benefit from it.
IoT technology allows tangible objects of everyday use to be able to connect to the internet to transmit data via algorithms and serve owners better. The world is already seeing a proliferation of smart devices like TVs, furniture items, vacuum cleaners and so on.
Already, there are smart homes, which are completely operated by in-built algorithms. Estimations by the Fraunhofer Institute place potential smart home savings at 40% as far as heating expenses are concerned, a goal that applies to industry as much as homeowners.
Ideas of smart cities are not far from being realized, either. Smart cities dream beyond the cutting of emissions and energy costs, estimated by McKinsey to improve commute times by a possible 15-20% and emergency service response times by 20-35% with the help of intelligent roads. As mentioned earlier, 5G would provide an avenue for these smart homes, smart cities and many more smart devices to realize their true potential.
Once there is level ground for smart devices, especially low-powered ones to thrive, then IoT would receive a huge boost. Since it would become more convenient to operate these devices, there would be many more of them and even many more people to readily adopt it. The world is reaching a level where it would be difficult to live as a human being without access to the internet. In fact, the UN has since 2016 declared access to the internet as a human right.
However, while the marriage of 5G and IoT already promises to be a blissful one, there are still legitimate concerns especially in the areas of security and privacy. That is where blockchain comes in.
Many people today are at the very least aware of virtual currencies today like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Swisscoin, Litecoin and so on. But only a few really have a grasp of the technology behind it: Blockchain. Blockchain is a peer-to-peer, decentralized database platform for storing blocks of transaction data linked together in chains – hence the name.
The decentralized nature of blockchain means it is resistant to most security issues. Its high-level encryption provides greater protection from hacking than the traditional client-server system. That is what makes online transactions and payments using virtual currencies are so secure.
IoT and 5G together have great potential but which can only be realized by infusing the blockchain technology. While 5G provides a connectivity cover for IoT devices and transactions, blockchain handles security and ensures the protection of user and transaction data. And really, this trinity would be very strong as each part strengthens the other.
The internet of skills would receive a huge boost with the introduction of blockchain. Earlier this year, a Chinese doctor performed the world's first 5G remote surgery on the brain of a patient who was several miles away using robots. More of this is expected to happen as we see much-improved healthcare delivery globally. Security in this area is, for obvious reasons, vital – and blockchain implemented in healthcare would make remote processes that much more secure.
In addition, the anticipated 5G-motivated massive increase in adoption of smart devices means that the blockchain would have at hand, far more data than before. This data is a great push towards globalization in technology.
However, blockchain having to handle more data would most likely cause scalability issues. The technology stores transaction data in blocks linked by chains. Building each block takes about 10 minutes already – what happens when there is far more data to deal with and process? The result is a great increase in a block size that leads to higher response time.
As a result of the above, while 5G provides speed for IoT devices, integration with blockchain might actually result in slower processing of data and transactions. This is an anticipated challenge of infusing 5G and IoT with blockchain and a specific solution does not seem to be obvious yet. Perhaps, the speed of 5G or a better cellular technology will balance up this slower processing.
In conclusion, 5G, IoT and blockchain all need and impact each other to thrive in this globalized world. There is no stopping 5G and IoT now, so we must hope that engineers and developers will find a way to solve or go around the anticipated blockchain scalability issues so that the three technologies can reach their unified potential.