From My Vantage Point

The Marriage of NFTs and DeFi and What It Means for the Virtual Economy

While in 2020 decentralized finance (DeFi) was all the rage, 2021 has seen the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are essentially digital certificates of ownership of a scarce asset on a blockchain.

After $400 million in gross sales of NFTs were consummated in 2020, some $1 billion were completed in just the first quarter of this year. That includes $230 million in transactions involving NBA highlights. It includes the sale of the first tweet by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey for a cool $2.9 million. And it includes the sale of a collage of digital images by the artist Mike Winkleman (a.k.a. Beeple) for $69.3 million

Beyond offering a virtual platform for artists, NFTs have become a central part of the virtual economy, as they are being used to tokenize hard valuable assets like real estate, jewelry, racehorses, fine art and fine wine. It is expected, in fact, that NFTs will transform the worldwide web itself. As Nitan Gaur, founder and director of IBM Digital Assets Labs, wrote for Cointelegraph.com in early April:

(T)he NFT movement is indicative of a larger token revolution that will not only fuel massive innovation and growth in Web 3.0 protocols but also test the resolve of the DeFi movement, along with its ability to intersect and provide platforms and an exchange vehicle for all token types.

Gaur went on to explain that while earlier iterations of the web made it possible to circulate information, they were not designed with the idea of circulating items of value. The new-look web, dependent as it is on edge computing, decentralized data networks and artificial intelligence, will be able to do that.

In other words, the marriage of DeFi and NFTs can be expected to play a critical role in this transformation. Already we have seen the development of platforms like NFTmall, an NFT marketplace that is powered by DeFi and eCommerce and provides even greater exposure for artists and other content creators. We have seen the emergence of NETfi, which enables borrowers to post digital items as collateral, thus heralding a redefinition of financial services.

NETfi, in fact, underwent an $890,000 investment round in February, and is one of a dozen companies making possible the coupling of DeFi and NFTs. Consider Ark Gallery, which has developed tools to make NFTs more fungible. Consider Zora Protocol, which has created an NFT auction model. Consider Unifty, which has designed a management system that is “the WordPress of NFTs,” as one of its team members, Markus Medinger, informed CoinDesk. And consider Polyient Games, which has both invested in NFTs and developed a decentralized exchange for the technology.

All of this was neatly summarized by Lasse Clausen, a partner at the venture firm 1kx, in a news release circulated to Coindesk and other finance-related outlets:

“As NFTs re-imagined how we produce and define ownership of digital content online, we’ll also, in turn, begin to re-imagine a whole new category of financial services based on these new building blocks.”

Certainly that can be expected to continue. Certainly NFTs will continue to be robust, continue to thrive. And it appears that its looming marriage to DeFi will play a significant role in its ongoing surge.

Can You Hear Us Now? Where 5G is Concerned in the U.S., That’s Still Not Clear

In November 2020 T-Mobile executive Neville Ray declared to Fortune magazine that where 5G was concerned, his company was “off to the races” and that it “came out of the blocks super quick.”

T-Mobile, labeled in that same Fortune piece as “the next big thing” by Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson Research, has been able to maintain that momentum in the early stages of 2021, as it works toward its stated goal of nationwide coverage by the end of the year. The company’s coverage, speed and upload speed are superior to those of Verizon and AT&T, giving every indication that it is in fact winning the race.

There are, however, lingering worries about how the U.S. is faring in the larger 5G race against China, and the economic implications going forward. Former Google head Eric Schmidt, writing in Financial Times in early February, asserted that China is “far ahead” in that competition, as it will soon have a national network, while American progress was actually stunted by an FCC auction in January that saw a sizable swath of 5G-friendly “C-Band” spectrum peddled for the record-setting total of $81 billion.

As he wrote:

The massive sums winners paid for the spectrum will reduce their financial capacity to actually use it. Instead, it will probably result in disinvestment and downsizing. … The outcomes are predictable: Americans will face higher prices and weaker digital services — yesterday’s internet tomorrow.

Others are more optimistic. Nearly seven of every 10 business leaders believe, for instance, that 5G will aid in their companies’ recovery from the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Verizon 5G Business Report. Roughly eight in 10 of those decision makers believe the rollout of this technology will create new opportunities for their enterprise, their industry and their role.

Certainly there is compelling evidence to support that. While the downlink speeds have not yet reached the hoped-for rate of 100 megabits per second (Mpbs), T-Mobile, at least, was on an uptick. Its rate of 58.1, in addition to being superior to those of AT&T (53.8) and Verizon (47.4), had inched up from 49.2 in June 2020, according to data from the research group Opensignal. (The other two companies had actually seen their speeds decline.)

T-Mobile is also seeing its customers use 5G service 30.1 percent of the time, up from 22.5 percent in mid-2020. Respective user rates for AT&T and Verizon are lagging at 18.8 percent and 9.5 percent, by comparison. And finally, T-Mobile’s upload speed — i.e., the rate at which larger files, like photos and videos, can be shared — stands at 14.0 Mbps, ahead of Verizon (11.9) and AT&T (8.0).

Additionally, T-Mobile was the first carrier to launch a standalone 5G network — i.e., one that is not built upon 4G LTE infrastructure — having done so in August 2020. That has resulted in increases in the number of rural users, which is critical to the larger goal of nationwide coverage, and brings with it hopes for things like a supercharged Internet of Things and the rise of autonomous vehicles.

Miles to go on all fronts, of course. But so far T-Mobile seems poised to deliver on its promises.

The IOT Cybersecurity Act: What it Could Mean Going Forward

Leading up to the Presidential inauguration of Joe Biden, his Peloton had become a matter of national security. Equipped with a camera and a microphone, the President’s stationary bike has been considered a prime target for hackers, which led to a debate as to whether he should even bring it into the White House.

Now, multiply that matter by millions, and you have some idea of the challenge facing the federal government as it pertains to interconnected devices. That was the impetus behind the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020 (a.k.a. the IoT Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2020), which was signed into law on December 4, 2020.

The aim of the bipartisan bill, which was introduced in 2017 by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), is to establish baseline security requirements for IoT manufacturers hoping to contract with the federal government. And, according to the website Cyberscoop.com, it is viewed as “arguably the most significant U.S. IoT-specific cybersecurity law to date, as well as the most significant law promoting coordinated vulnerability disclosure in the private sector to date” by Harley Geiger, director of public policy for the cybersecurity company Rapid7.

This bill empowers the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to batten the cyber-hatches. Specifically, those bodies must develop baseline cybersecurity guidelines for all federal agencies.

The hope is that it will in turn lead to an upgrade in the standards of those manufacturers who contract with the government. The additional hope is that those standards become commonplace, whether a company is working with the government or not.

“Of course it depends on the business and how much business they think they can get from the federal government,” Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), who sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives, told Cyberscoop. “I think it will sway some. I’m not gonna say it will sway all.”

If nothing else, it represents a baby step, a noble attempt at securing the ever-expanding cyber-border. By some estimates, there will be between 500 billion and one trillion connected devices around the world by 2030. And as Chris Hazleton, Director of Security Solutions at the mobile-security-solutions firm Lookout, told Security Magazine:

IoT devices are growing in diversity in terms of capabilities and price points, so there is pressure on manufacturers to rush devices to market, which means they often cut corners to maintain margins. Cybersecurity is often seen as a last-minute and costly add-on that manufacturers skimp on. Hundreds of millions of devices and network hardware have been delivered to market with simple default admin passwords. This creates a massive attack surface for any organization that deploys and relies on these connected devices. 

Limiting that attack surface promises to be more and more difficult in the years ahead. But this bill begins to address that. It raises awareness, and will hopefully lead to an across-the-board improvement in security standards — standards that will forever need to be tweaked and upgraded. We can be sure that the hackers will never rest. Those on the other side of the equation can’t afford to either.

Tech in 2021: Get Ready for the Internet of Behavior

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the business landscape, and as we head into 2021 its impact will continue to be felt.

While remote work has become a necessity at many businesses (something that promises to be the case, well into the new year), there are those enterprises where that is not possible — where employees must congregate in the workplace, while at the same time observing social distancing protocols and other measures that will ensure their safety.

To be absolutely certain that is the case, employers are turning to an offshoot of the Internet of Things — the Internet of Behavior (IoB). Sometimes called the Internet of Behaviors, plural, it involves tracking human activity through interconnected devices. Gartner predicted in its “Top Strategic Technology Trends for 2021”  that it is poised for a breakout in 2021.

As examples, Gartner pointed to the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which enable employers to monitor whether employees are washing their hands enough, and computer vision to reveal whether they’re using masks. In addition, telematics could be used to track driver performance when using company vehicles.

Other organizations are equally bullish about the IoB’s potential. Forrester, in its forecast for the year ahead, sees environmental monitoring taking on greater importance than ever — that sensors will be used to not only maximize uses of lighting, power and energy, but also to identify congested office spaces so that modifications to the layout can be made to enable social distancing.

The IoB uptick was neatly summarized by Gartner research vice president Brian Burke during an organizational symposium, stating, “The unprecedented socioeconomic challenges of 2020 demand the organizational elasticity to transform and compose the future.”

Indeed, the pandemic has brought about a need for such elasticity — for adroitness, resourcefulness and the ability to adapt on the fly. As it was put in the Forrester report:

Behind the scenes, processes designed over years to ossify cost control, efficiency and predictability were replaced by those that emphasized flexibility and resilience. As they plan for 2021, manufacturers will learn the lessons of 2020, doubling down on technology-enabled strategies to deliver flexibility, resilience and innovation.

Mining behavioral data is a concept first explored by Gote Nyman, a retired psychology professor at the University of Helsinki, in 2012. He cautioned, however, that too much can be read into statistics compiled gleaned from the IoB. It has been left to Gartner researchers to dig deeper; and as the technology has improved, the insights have become more revealing.

Certainly the IoB also serves as a powerful marketing tool, giving businesses unprecedented insights into customer habits, which in turn can be used to anticipate future behavior.

There are, however, privacy concerns, concerns that conjure up memories of George Orwell’s ever-vigilant Big Brother, from the dystopian 1949 novel “1984.” Gartner estimates that by 2023, 40 percent of the global population — some three billion people — will be tracked. By 2025, half of the world will be subject to one IoB program or another.

So that’s concerning, and bears are watching. But in the short term, the IoB offers promise for companies and investors alike.

What’s Next for Ethereum?

The general-purpose blockchain Ethereum turned five on July 30. And while it is certainly doing far more than merely toddling about, there is every expectation that it will find its footing in a number of different sectors in the years ahead.

Alternately billed as “the world computer” and “the foundational platform for everything” when it was launched in 2015, Ethereum has been deemed capable of impacting such sectors as supply chains, ecommerce, communications, healthcare, real estate, social media and even elections.

But to date it has made its biggest impact on decentralized finance (DeFi), a financial system that operates without the need of a central authority, like a bank or governmental body. In other words, decentralized apps — i.e., Dapps — can be created on Ethereum (not to mention other blockchains), with the most common of those apps making it possible for users to lend or borrow cryptocurrencies such as Ether, Ethereum’s crypto.

DeFi, a $1 billion business in January 2020, had quadrupled in value by July. It offers financial access to the world’s 1.7 billion unbanked people, and is expected to disrupt traditional banking institutions. Alex Batlin, CEO of the crypto wallet Trustology, told Decrypt.com that he could, in fact, foresee DeFi becoming the world’s most trusted global liquidity pool within the next five years. And, he added:

“As DeFi goes global and becomes reliable, more liquidity will flow there, and attract more liquidity. All of this will be enabled by decentralization, because it is safer.”

Kosala Hemachandra, founder/CEO of MEW (MyEtherWallet), agreed, informing that same outlet that “DeFi will transition from being a trendy and high-risk way to maximize gains in crypto, to a daily necessity and reality for personal finance — less risky, more usable, more reliable, and more ubiquitous.”

The rollout of Ethereum 2.0, which began in November and will be done in stages, will hasten Ethereum’s rise in other realms. This new iteration is hailed for its change from Proof of Work (i.e., a system demanding a certain amount of work to ward off hackers and such) to Proof of Stake (a system where transactions can be performed according to the amount of cryptocurrency a user holds), and draws Ethereum closer to the point where it might become, as co-founder Vitalik Buterin once wrote, “a crypto network that intends to be as generalized as possible.”

That means more decentralization in more areas. Consider that in December 2018, the U.S. government passed legislation that would make online services more easily accessible. Consider the way smart contracts, an Ethereum staple, simplify supply chain management; the World Economic Forum estimates that it could result in $1 trillion in new trade over the next 10 years. Consider the platform’s potential impact on healthcare, as blockchains have been shown to minimize instances of patient misidentification and information blocking.

Other potential use cases are real estate, as smart contracts can make transactions easier to consummate. Distributed ledger technology (DLT) has also shown potential in elections, as exemplified in West Virginia’s 2016 primary.

In short, there is still vast potential for Ethereum. Having clambered to its feet at age 5, it is now getting steadier and stronger. No telling how far it might run in the years ahead.

The 5G-IoT Marriage, and What it Will Mean for Industry

The rollout of 5G is ongoing, with all the major wireless carriers endeavoring to expand their coverage across the U.S. And as vast as the implications promise to be for everyday people — a result of 5G’s crackling download speeds and minimal latency — they are that much greater for industry.

It is expected, in fact, that 5G (i.e., the fifth generation of wireless technology) will, in combination with the Internet of Things (IoT), usher in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a.k.a., Industry 4.0. That manufacturing will be more efficient and supply chains more fluid. That retail shopping will be more personalized and smart cities more likely. That autonomous vehicles will become more commonplace and remote healthcare more widespread.

In short, the world could very well become more efficient as a result of this 5G/IoT marriage. Just consider the particulars — how 5G is 100 times faster than 4G, and offers latency that is 25 times lower. It is capable of supporting a massive number of devices at once, and is vastly more energy-efficient than its predecessor as well.

In truth, there are few industries that won’t be touched by 5G/IoT, as evidenced by the fact that the global Industrial IoT market, valued at $688 billion in 2019, is expected to explode by 2024, to $982 billion. (Other estimates have it exceeding the $1 trillion mark.) It will specifically impact such areas of industry as asset tracking, predictive maintenance, product quality and supply-chain management.

The impact of these technologies can be illustrated in the production of bladed disks (a.k.a., BLISKS), a crucial part of turbines most commonly found in jet engines. Precision is a must in the manufacturing of these items, as flaws can lead to engine failure and severe accidents. The use of sensors, which provide real-time information during the production process, ensure quality — and, in turn, profitability. In addition, increased efficiency reduces fuel consumption and the production of greenhouse gases. So there is a sustainability component as well.

How did we get here? Rewind to the 1980s, when first-generation wireless technology allowed for voice communication. 2G, which enabled texting, came along in the ‘90s, with 3G (featuring mobile broadband) available in 2000 and 4G (with ever-increasing speed) in 2010.

In the meantime, the IoT was gaining momentum. The term, coined by British innovator Kevin Ashton in 1999, showed some initial footing in industry about a decade later, but then became more commonplace in home and office settings, with the introduction of such things as smart thermostats, doorbells, lighting, etc. There are, in fact, more connected devices in the world today than there are people, and it is expected that there will be even more in the years ahead — as many as 41.6 billion of them by 2025, according to one estimate.

By the end of this year, there will be some 5.8 billion interconnected devices in industry (particularly the automotive industry) alone. More to come, to be sure. And in the meantime AT&T has taken root in dozens of U.S. cities, with Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint making inroads as well. As mentioned, that will enable these devices to be faster, more efficient and more interconnected than ever before. 

By |October 30th, 2020|Tags: , , , , , |