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DePIN Doesn’t Need New Infrastructure



DePIN Doesn’t Need New Infrastructure

The idea of a decentralized internet isn’t new. Projects like Hyphanet and Tor were early attempts to create decentralized networks. More recently, blockchain-based initiatives such as IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) and Filecoin have emerged. However, these efforts have faced significant challenges. The primary hurdle has been the need for widespread physical infrastructure – servers, routers, and high-bandwidth connections – to match the robustness and speed of traditional internet service providers.

This op-ed is part of CoinDesk’s new DePIN Vertical, covering the emerging industry of decentralized physical infrastructure.

What’s often overlooked is the network that we all already have access to, one that could provide the backbone for a massive revolution in how the Web is used and supported all over the globe. Best of all, we needn’t look beyond the devices in our pockets.

For the most part, the internet as we know it is built on top of traditional, centralized servers owned by major tech companies. However, in 2024, a new model is emerging.

Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks, or DePINs, are blockchain-based data management systems that are alternatives to the existing architecture. Despite their differences, they still provide comparable results for essential services like computing power and real-world information. This is possible because DePIN networks use incentivization, in the form of cryptocurrency compensation, to enable crowd-sourced infrastructure that is as, or more effective, than their legacy counterparts.

Crowdsourced infrastructure isn’t an entirely new concept, but in many cases, there is a limiting factor for just how decentralized these systems are. This is because they often require specific, expensive hardware to be set up and maintained for network participation. This barrier limits how many people or businesses can truly get involved, while also encouraging whales to make centralized farms, ultimately leading to a situation not far removed from what we have now.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay this way. Instead of making potential users buy new hardware, what if we utilized the processing power and decentralized infrastructure that most people already carry in their pockets? With such a model, the network would allow anybody to leverage their smartphones or similar devices to assist in running nodes. If built correctly, this could provide more than enough resources for DePIN services to operate, while generating a pool of contribution rewards to continue incentivizing participation and growth.

In 2023, it was estimated that about 69% of the world’s population already used smartphones to access the internet. This number is expected to grow, with these devices getting more powerful each year. Collectively, they can provide the raw processing power to allow for a new type of content delivery network that powers the information superhighway. Not only does this take control of these services away from major companies, but it also stands to solve issues plaguing the current internet, such as downtime.

APhone demonstrates this concept by transforming any smart device into a Web3 smartphone through a browser-based application. It utilizes Aethir’s decentralized cloud technology to provide computational power by distributing processing tasks across a network, allowing users to access increased GPU capabilities, expanded storage, and additional RAM without overburdening their local hardware. This enables any device to function as a virtual smartphone, capable of running resource-intensive applications and storing large amounts of data independently of the physical device’s limitations.

DePINs would be almost impossible to take down, as they would be formed by a globally distributed network of nodes and operators. This would mean essential services couldn’t be easily taken offline, centralized, or censored, due to attack or human error, improving data availability for all the apps built on them.

DePINs expand inclusivity. What this means is the barrier to entry would become so low that virtually anyone in the world could get involved. Almost everyone in the world can afford some form of smartphone, and more importantly, they aren’t buying them with an expectation of a return. With this technology, individuals and companies could utilize their spare processing power and be compensated for doing so. Instead of a handful of data giants making all the money from providing services, now that revenue would be much more equitably spread across everyone supporting the network. The infrastructure is already in place, all that needs to happen is a software upgrade.

We are right at the beginning of this paradigm shift. Multiple DePIN projects are being developed and will soon gain traction, creating a feedback loop as the benefits of this technology become more widely understood. According to a 2023 report from Messari, the market potential for DePIN stood at an estimated $2.2 trillion last year and is projected to go as high as $3.5 trillion by 2028. There’s every reason to believe this space has sustainable momentum.

In the not-too-distant future, we could see an internet that is decentralized and supported by the very devices we use to access it every day. In that eventuality, all users would see a basic passive income just for being a part of this solution. This could massively overhaul what the internet means for the average person, giving everyone a specific stake in the network while wresting control away from major corporations.

DePIN is a very young new branch of technology. It’s too early to say exactly how its adoption will play out in the coming years. What is important to realize is that so much of the groundwork is already in place. There’s no need to “reinvent the wheel,” so to speak, only to take advantage of what exists right now.

Utilizing the network of smartphones that have permeated cultures all over the globe will allow for a new, equitable, and resilient form of the internet. All that’s needed is the widespread adoption of a software-based solution that taps into crowdsourced infrastructure. It looks like that may be right around the corner.

Note: The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CoinDesk, Inc. or its owners and affiliates.

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