DePINs can disrupt tech monopolies and put people back in control | Opinion

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Decentralized physical infrastructure networks (DePIN) have the potential to transform how we access and use real-world services.  Potential use cases are only restricted by your imagination. What if… internet hotspots could be established in rural areas with little coverage? Or could homeowners be rewarded by returning excess solar energy to the grid? Could consumers share unused storage space on their devices with others? Or even entrepreneurs could unlock peer-to-peer microloans to build local projects.

Underpinned by blockchain technology, DePINs make all of this possible—at a time when the infrastructure powering the global economy is experiencing seismic change. Figures from Statista suggest that 33.8% of the world’s population doesn’t use the internet, with people in low-income countries most likely to be shut out of the modern information society. The International Energy Agency estimates that 100 million households will depend on rooftop solar panels by 2030, and enhancing economic incentives will be a crucial catalyst for adoption. And let’s not forget that the rise of artificial intelligence means the need for storage and computation is booming, with McKinsey projecting demand for data centers will rise 10% a year between now and the end of the decade. DePINs have the power to cultivate a cloud storage network that’s much cheaper than traditional players, including Google and Amazon.

DePINs mount a competitive challenge to the centralized providers who dominate the business landscape. Currently, huge companies or governments control most of the infrastructure we use daily. This order creates a real risk of monopolies where a lack of choice pushes up prices for consumers and businesses—with the pursuit of profits stymying innovation and shutting out customers based on geography and income.

Blockchains are at the heart of these decentralized networks. Individuals and businesses that contribute physical infrastructure can be rewarded in crypto tokens that are automatically paid out through smart contracts. Consumers can also use digital assets to unlock services on demand.

This approach isn’t about modernizing access to infrastructure but changing how it is managed, accessed, and owned. Unlike centralized providers, the crypto tokens issued through DePINs incentivize all participants to get involved. Decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) are vital in establishing the framework for managing these projects. Digital assets can be used to vote on proposals ranging from planned network upgrades to where resources should be allocated. Whereas big businesses are motivated by profit, community-driven projects can focus on meeting the needs of underserved areas. The issuance of tokens can also provide the funding required to build infrastructure—and acquire the land, equipment, and technical expertise needed to get an idea off the ground.

Web3 has been driven by a belief that internet users should have complete control over their data, and tech giants should be stopped from monetizing personal information while giving nothing in return. DePINs align well with these values, all while reducing entry barriers and ensuring healthy competition. Multiple marketplaces for internet access, data storage, and energy will result in much fairer prices for end users—and encourage rivals to innovate so they have compelling points of difference. It also means an entrepreneur who profoundly understands their community needs can start a business without large capital requirements. Open access and interoperability are the future.

Particular challenges must be overcome for DePINs to have a lasting global impact. There’s no denying that multibillion-dollar corporations currently benefit from economies of scale, vast user bases, and deep pockets. That’s why it’s incumbent on decentralized innovations to show why their approach is better. Reaching out to untapped markets that are not being served by business behemoths is a good first step. Another obstacle standing in the way of adoption concerns regulatory uncertainty, which can prevent investors and participants from getting involved. Careful thought also needs to be paid to DePINs’ ramifications on data privacy. Unless safeguards are imposed, someone who accesses an internet hotspot through blockchain technology could inadvertently disclose their particular location.

Ecosystems have been created that allow DePINs to be established while ensuring that user privacy is preserved at all times—championing data ownership and self-sovereignty. In addition to reducing the risks surrounding identity theft, they have been built with the evolving nature of global regulation in mind—with measures such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU forcing companies to rethink how much data they hold on their customers.

Zooming in on Europe as a use case and how these regulatory headwinds will affect more than 400 million citizens on the continent gives invaluable insight into how DePINs—and the infrastructure they’re built on—can impact the years to come.

For one, the current internet landscape means we must create a new digital identity whenever we want to join a website or app—manually handing over personal information by filling out lengthy forms to open accounts. Users are then confronted by lengthy terms and conditions or privacy notices that often go unread, leaving people in the dark about how their data will be used in the future. That’s why the EU has proposed singular digital identities that could be used for multiple services—from “paying taxes to renting bicycles”—and change the dynamic about how confidential information is shared. This approach would mean that consumers are in the driving seat and can decide which counterparties have the right to learn more about who they are.

The European Union’s approach is ambitious and requires fast, inexpensive, and interoperable infrastructure—allowing digital signatures, identity checks, and credentials to be stored and executed securely across the trading bloc. Another element that must be thrown into the mix is central bank digital currencies, with the European Central Bank spearheading efforts to create an electronic form of the euro that is free to use and privacy-preserving—all while enabling instant cross-border transactions with businesses, other consumers, and governments.

High-performing and low-cost infrastructure will be essential if decentralized assets are to be used by consumers across the continent, not to mention regulatory compliance. Privacy-focused wallets must support multiple blockchains, decentralized identities, verifiable credentials, and data storage. A simple, user-friendly mobile application will be instrumental in guaranteeing that DePINs gain momentum.

The future is bright, and we’re yet to scratch the surface of the advantages decentralization can bring to everyone. However, usability and efficiency are two key pillars that must be prioritized if this new wave of innovation is to match the unparalleled impact of the Internet.

Chris Were

Chris Were

Chris Were is the CEO of Verida, a decentralized, self-sovereign data network that empowers individuals to control their digital identity and personal data. Chris is an Australian-based technology entrepreneur who has spent over 20 years developing innovative software solutions, lately Verida. With his application of the latest technologies, Chris has disrupted the finance, media, and healthcare industries. 

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