To call blockchain a revolution is an understatement, according those who are at the forefront of bringing it to market. We live in a digital world dominated by a few centralized organizations that collect and control our data, they say. And blockchain innovators are attempting to change that equation by delivering individual data autonomy and democracy in all applications, transforming everything people do over networks.
Blockchain represents a new opportunity for infrastructure operators by creating new functions and roles, from real-time asset ownership and management to the very definition of next-generation networks and who will be operating them. The Alternet Project by BRIDGE is a hyper-speed internet alternative created by former NASA Engineer Christopher Anderson, who spent many years working on NASA’s mission to Mars. The Alternet project aims to use blockchain technology to make fast and secure transactions possible at the network hardware layers.
Anderson will discuss blockchain, how it relates to communications networks and BRIDGE’s vision during a panel at Connectivity Expo on May 21 in Orlando. Anderson provided a preview of that panel by sharing some insights into his work with NASA and how that led him to explore the applications of blockchain in next-generation networks.
You have an interesting background at NASA. How did your work on the Mars mission lead you to what you are doing now?
NASA’s mission to Mars was very exciting work. NASA had not been back to Mars since the late 1970s, and they were searching for a new system of communications between all of the spacecraft to get more data back from Mars. Among many competing designs, mine won, and it became NASA’s first deep-space wireless network. This network provides error-free data from Mars, and it is the system they still use today on all new missions.
The success with this program gave me the freedom to branch out and build up my own independent lab, working on core communications R&D. In those investigations, I found that many practical inefficiencies were holding wireless performance back. From that work came some big breakthroughs. These were new designs that allowed high-speed wireless at much lower power consumption and a new hyper-secure method of communications as well.
From that came the founding of BRIDGE. BRIDGE is a public benefits corporation whose mission is making this technology openly available to all economic levels and to all geographic regions. BRIDGE is especially focused on how this technology supports the coming blockchain revolution.
What is blockchain, and how is it being used today?
Everyone gets a little nervous hearing about blockchains for the first time, but it is not that difficult of a concept. A blockchain is a collection of private database records kept as multiple copies over a network, referred to as a “distributed ledger.” The ledger is built up over time as new validated and encrypted “blocks” of data.
A block is first created by a blockchain operator running a dedicated computer. From this, all other blockchain operators reconcile their ongoing copies of this block on the network. These multiple copies are kept at each operator location, and so there is little risk of ever losing the entire ledger. This is what makes the blockchain a distributed or decentralized database.
You probably have heard of the first popular blockchain implementations, like Bitcoin and Ethereum. These have been important pioneering cases of blockchain, and they are certainly not the last cases. Blockchain functionality has just begun to evolve.
The first aspect, one of many, that makes a blockchain so fundamentally useful is that it puts all of us back in collective control of our data. We all know how bad data security is right now. That is in large part due to the fact that we trust our personal information to companies who keep centralized databases of our data. A hacker can focus on attacking one company’s database, and when he or she successfully breaches it, they have access to everything on that single database. We know it happens all the time now.
In a blockchain decentralized database, each block of data is itself a separately encrypted element of the database. The idea is that if a hacker could somehow breach the blockchain network, they could only hope to gain access to that one small block of data.
This kind of collective decentralized control of our data has profound implications. It means that blockchains can transform all the applications we know, from social media, to banking, to ride-sharing, to asset trading, to voting — really everything. Now, instead of sending our data off to a big company that we have to trust to keep our data secure, we can use decentralized apps to share data with each other as secure peer-to-peer transactions on a blockchain. It can remove the middle-man risks from everything digital we do.
And so blockchain is a great concept and a great ideal to give power back to end-users. But for a blockchain to really work well, it must have speed and security of transactions between its individual nodes on the network. You need greater network speeds to keep transaction times low. You need strong security to keep all of those transactions private.
What is the vision of blockchain going forward as it relates to BRIDGE’s technology?
The problem is that current blockchains, based on software designs, are prone to hacking because there are so many opportunities for mistakes or ‘bugs’ in their coding. The traditional mentality in software design is to just fix the software bugs as they come up. But real-time blockchain transactions cannot accept this “we’ll fix it later” approach. Critical data security cannot be left to chance.
BRIDGE is using its breakthrough technology to make the fastest and most secure blockchain transactions possible through its hardware implementation. This blockchain is embedded deep in the network hardware layers, and no software is involved.
This means new end-user applications that we can only imagine today, like seeing the person you are talking to visually right in front of you as if they were really there. BRIDGE is demonstrating this “remote reality” application and others in its first 100 public pilot systems.
What are the implications of blockchain for the wireless infrastructure industry?
Blockchain has an immediate and a longer-term impact on the wireless industry. Immediately, blockchains affect how assets can be managed, keeping clear and secure records of all asset transactions through smart contracts on the blockchain. Longer-term, blockchain will transform everything we are doing with wireless network infrastructure, from the way we procure rights-of-way, towers, and wholesale fiber access — with a whole new class of independent entrepreneur operators.
What is BRIDGE’s mission?
You can think of BRIDGE itself as being a decentralized organization. Its mission is supporting the world’s own use of this breakthrough wireless technology, showing the world how to build this whole new network layer, the new devices, and the new applications itself.
BRIDGE is using its first 100 public pilot system deployments to really make the technology very simple to understand by demonstrating exactly what it can do, and to show this new class of independent operators how to deploy it.
What is the timeline for deployment?
BRIDGE’s plan is to deploy its first 100 public pilot systems beginning in the first quarter of 2020. Leading up to that, BRIDGE is working with strategic equipment, device and operator partners who are getting into position to support widespread public deployments starting in the fourth quarter of 2020.
Don’t miss Anderson’s panel, “How Blockchain Impacts the Future of Network Infrastructure,” Tuesday, May 21, at 8 a.m. The panel is part of the “Towers and Macro Sites 2.0” education track, which features topics on investment partnerships, the integrated asset chain, disaster response, distributed energy storage, and new spectrum opportunities.
Visit www.connectivityexpo.com for the full list of speakers, keynotes, exhibitors and sessions.
Christopher Anderson is a founder and Chief Technologist at BRIDGE. He oversees BRIDGE’s core network and hardware blockchain technology and its public pilot system deployments. His entire career has been devoted to core wireless R&D, developing breakthrough technologies for NASA’s Mars spacecraft network, space launch vehicles, high-speed LEO satellite communications and high-capacity gigabit wireless networking.
Also published on Medium.