Last week, at a GSMA event in Tanzania, Chain of Things (CoT) revealed how it is using blockchain technology to enhance the security of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Conor Colwell, COO & Co-Founder, was invited to speak to the Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities Africa Working Group, held on 24th and 25th of July 2016 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The working group met just before GSMA’s Mobile 360 Conference. Conor participated in a session covering trends and technologies such as M2M & Blockchain and how they can be used in the development sector. After the event, Conor answered some questions regarding the CoT consortium, its offerings, and the event.
What is the purpose of Chain of Things?
CoT is a consortium that is using practical case study applications to explore blockchain’s potential to secure the Internet of Things. The purpose is to secure IoT while adding a common language of interoperability as to best support and accelerate the broader industry.
Who are members of the consortium?
Consortium members include a variety of organizations across the full stack spectrum of core IoT and blockchain technology as well as traditional industry incumbents and networks across various application verticals. The consortium is designed to develop and protect intellectual property related to fundamental IoT security and interoperability issues, opening this IP to all members as to better support the forward development of IoT verticals.
What was the goal of your presentation at the GSMA conference?
CoT was invited by the GSMA to Dar es Salaam to take part in and present to a pre Mobile 360 conference working group of 60 individuals, composed of top African telecoms, energy companies, utilities, and startups. The goal of the presentation was to introduce the general concept of blockchain technology and its potential to act as a universal underlying ‘protocol’ for a variety of industrial IoT applications to provide security and interoperability.
Why is blockchain technology suitable for securing IoT systems? Would this be the same for both industrial and consumer IoT devices?
Blockchain technology can potentially provide a baseline data structure or common language for devices to securely record their data to either public or private distributed ledgers and communicate between each other. This evolution from a purely centralized data reporting model to a distributed model removes the risk of a single point of failure and corruptibility through the creation of a far more immutable record of events distributed across various nodes. This technology would also help hardware devices to secure their own identity (and respective data reputation) based on confirmed OEM firmware, IMEI, and a multi element fingerprint signature based on a given device’s environmental context at a single point in time. The overall point is that while blockchain ledger technology might be quite secure, its distributed security is only as good as the quality of the data recorded to it. Our goal is to explore ways in which identity can be assigned to or discerned from connected devices in a way that is almost biological in nature. While the data responsibility of an industrial IoT sensor that is tasked with managing a dam floodgate is definitely more significant than that of a connected lawnmower, industrial vs consumer data security implementations would largely be the same. More so, it is essential to have a common language and trust protocol across the entire community of IoT devices as to prevent fragmentation and maintain interoperability as much as possible.
What products or services does CoT have to offer in the form of blockchain technology?
CoT provides blockchain connected devices and a full stack Blockchain Hardware as a Service (Bhaas), covering design and deployment of connected blockchain devices using CoT blockchain security standards, telecoms infrastructure, private blockchain hosting and public blockchain relay.
Which blockchain is suitable for IoT security? Bitcoin? Ethereum? Permissioned (Closed) or Permissionless (Open)?
While this is still an ongoing process of research through proof of concept testing of multiple blockchains (or even blockless ‘tangles’), lighter weight protocols that don’t use heavy proof of work models are largely favorable for the amount of data being generated and the relative lightweight nature of sensors and nodes. Permissionless ledgers might be suitable for data that is specifically designed to be public, such as weather data generated by publicly funded government initiatives. On the other hand, sensitive or commercial data could reside on permissioned ledgers with the ability to keep information fully opaque, or offer multiple layers of data transparency/resolution based on how much individual want to pay.
What about issues with blockchain scalability and transactional speed?
There are still a variety of issues to explore with blockchain scalability and transactional speed due to the vast amount of data generated by IoT deployments vs simple financial transactions. While the answers to these issues will need to be explored through CoT’s case studies focused on actual deployments and scalings of real world IoT systems, we believe that final models to address problems with IoT data load will produce a hybrid combination of edge network fog nodes working together with heavier nodes that exist between cloud and fog layers.
What is CoT's role in the solar energy JV with Solcrypto?
CoT’s role in the joint venture involves full support for end to end manufacturing and design of blockchain connected data loggers designed to track solar power generation. This also includes a virtual sim based GSM cellular connectivity solution that operates with pre negotiated roaming contracts across 95% of the covered world. Additionally, CoT contributes the security related IP it is currently developing in the form of patents directed at hardware based identity as well as business development and consulting services for expanding the SolarCoin network.
How can the JV serve developing countries like Tanzania?
The JV is a great project for African solar deployments in general. Beyond MKopa, there are over 30 picocell off grid solar financing models that would benefit greatly from proof of concept testing with the SolarCoin blockchain platform, along with hardware manufacturing experience. ‘Proof of generation’ allows for leveraged models including verified carbon credits, energy trading, UN COP21 emissions verification, regulatory compliance, secure financing, scientific research, impact investing accountability, and more.
In what other industries besides solar are you developing IoT Proof of Concepts?
We are aware of over 300 vertical applications across 9 different sectors of business, and are currently evaluating the potential of each one for future PoCs. Our next PoC however, will focus on the basic model of moving a sensor from point A to point B. This PoC will record location data along with environmental sensor inputs automatically to a blockchain while in transit at near real time. This will serve as an open ideation platform at our October ‘A<>B’ Hong Kong event for industrial partners to explore new use cases with this new tool set.
What is role of GSMA's conference in Africa?
The GSMA’s goal is to facilitate the development of business models that are enabled by the cellularly connectivity that is increasingly available in remote locations. This equates to raising the quality of life for millions of individuals through increased access to education, power, communication, financing, accessible utilities, and more.
What barriers to entry are there in Africa for technology?
Africa is an incredible opportunity to test a variety of emergent technologies in context of very traditional industries. Industrial segments in developed economies (such as banking, energy, telecom, etc.) are almost always encumbered with old inefficient large scale legacy institutions that are often too bureaucratic and risk/disruption adverse to experiment with models based on advanced or emergent technologies (especially technologies that could pose a threat to their traditional business models). This natural drive for self preservation usually slows down the testing and rollout of more edgy and leveraged combinations of new tech. Africa however, is a comparable blank canvas of opportunity. With many people unbanked or living off the grid in remote regions, traditional solutions fall well short of providing timely or efficient service to these individuals. With the clever application of modern but now relatively commonplace hardware, basic utilities and access to financial markets can be extended to a huge new audience through simple cellularly connected objects.