Blockchain Makes an Appearance at Mobile World Congress 2018

Blockchain earned a spot on the agenda at Mobile World Congress 2018. A session on Monday, February 26 entitled “IoT Security & the Blockchain” will explore how blockchain technology might help to secure the plethora of Internet of Things (IoT) devices connected to networks.

Analyst Ian Hughes with 451 Research is moderating the panel. He explained that IoT devices connected to a network can be validated on the blockchain for everyone to know the origin of the devices. “It’s a data point with context,” he said. “The device in a common group would potentially stop or know if it was asked to do things it wasn’t doing before.”

Anoop Nannra, head of blockchain initiatives at Cisco, is one of the presenters on the MWC panel. He said there are a number of potential strategies for securing sensors and other devices in an IoT network.

“For a simple sensor, we don’t see any blockchain client or application running on that sensor,” said Nannra. “But there could be an IoT gateway that is connected to that sensor that receives that data, and that device would have a blockchain client on it and know how to communicate to a blockchain network. If you have a less resources-constrained device, it could run a full blockchain node on it.”

In addition to heading blockchain efforts at Cisco, Nannra also chairs the Trusted IoT Alliance, which was formed in September 2017. “It’s the world’s only blockchain and IoT focused industry consortium,” he said. “It’s probably the only group looking specifically at blockchain and IoT at that intersection.”

The Trusted IoT Alliance is exploring questions such as: What are the software characteristics of blockchain clients and nodes on embedded devices? Nannra said the group plans to map the features and capabilities that a blockchain client would be expected to execute. Its work will be open-sourced under Apache 2.0 licensing.

Blockchain Chips

Hughes said Filament is a company whose technology is often cited in discussions about blockchain, IoT, and security. Filament builds blockchain hardware and software for industrial IoT, allowing companies to securely connect devices and machines that interact independently of a central authority. The company recently announced the beta testing of its Blocklet chip. The chip allows sensor data to be coded directly into the blockchain.

Hughes noted there are representatives from two chip manufacturers on his Mobile World Congress panel: from ARM and Qualcomm. “I think there will be a focus from chip manufacturers,” he said. “A secure identity that is baked into the hardware could be used on the blockchain to identify the device.”

Mobile Operators and Blockchain

Mobile World Congress, is, after all, a gathering for mobile operators and the ecosystem surrounding them. So what are these operators doing in terms of blockchain?

There has been a trickle of news on the topic.

Verizon Enterprise Solutions said it plans, later this year, to launch a portfolio of services based on KSI blockchain technology. The services will be offered through its Virtual Network Services (VNS) platform. Verizon didn’t specify what the services would be, only saying they would help large enterprise and government customers maintain the integrity of critical infrastructure and protect physical and digital supply chains.

And T-Mobile was listed as a participant in the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Sawtooth blockchain project. “As the un-carrier, T-Mobile approaches the wireless industry differently,” said Warren McNeel, SVP of digital technology and development at T-Mobile, in a statement. “Using Hyperledger Sawtooth as a platform, the company created Sawtooth Hyper Directory as an Identity and Access Management (IAM) solution.”

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