Ever since it was originally devised and developed as part of Satoshi Nakamoto’s seminal paper introducing Bitcoin in 2009, the concept of blockchain technology has most commonly been closely linked to cryptocurrencies as the underlying ledger where transactions are recorded. With time, however, other applications of blockchain technology that have little or nothing to do with digital money or payments have appeared and gained traction in different industries, which goes to show the ever-increasing potential of a technology that has a wide scope of application.
In this article, we will take a look at five applications of blockchain technology that are a departure from payments and cryptocurrencies.
Most smartphones use a physical SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card, which functions as a memory card that stores the identity and cellular network details of a cell phone user. However, it is also possible for cellphones to have virtual SIM cards as well, with recent developments signaling that a blockchain-secured virtual SIM card might become the next big development for both blockchain technology and cell phone service providers.
As it was reported on Sept. 20, American telecommunications company Verizon was awarded a patent for using blockchain-based vSIMs, or virtual SIM cards, as an alternative to the current industry standard of physical SIM cards. As the Sept. 10 filing with the US Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO) states, the replacement of a traditional card for a software counterpart on the blockchain will provide more security, and will ensure that there will only one copy of said vSIM on one device at a time. This will also allow Verizon to create a vSIM certificate for network services, which will include the creation of an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI), a number used to identify each individual user of a cellular network. This certificate is then linked to a user account, and it can be activated from the client’s mobile device.
All this information will be recorded and stored on Verizon’s distributed consensus network, also called the vSIM blockchain. By having all this information stored on a blockchain, the vSIM certificates are secured from malicious tampering thanks to time-stamped transactions and cryptographically secured blocks, elements proper to blockchain technology.
The filing also states that multiple devices can be associated with one user account, and that the vSIM can be transferred between all of them. What’s more, the vSIM can also be temporarily assigned to other users. These options provide virtual SIM cards a level of flexibility that surpasses the capabilities and limitations of traditional physical SIM cards.
Verizon is not the only company that is trying to leverage blockchain technology and apply it in the telecommunications industry. In fact, there have been recent reports of China Telecom also working on a SIM card-based blockchain project. If virtual SIM cards become the industry standard in the future with the help of blockchain technology, these burdensome little pieces of plastic might become a thing of the past.
Having virtual SIM card certificates recorded on a blockchain has the potential to become an industry standard if the implementation of the technology by Verizon is successful.
Another recent development that saw a novel application of blockchain technology was the announcement of a blockchain-based copyright management system for music in Korea, as reported by local outlets on Sept. 20. The report indicates that CJ Group, a South Korean conglomerate that has more than $25 billion in assets, is developing the system using the Amazon Managed Blockchain service.
This system will keep a record on the blockchain that contains the broadcast history of copyrighted songs when they are used as, for example, background music in different types of broadcasts. With this, both the copyright holders and the parties that make use of said copyrighted intellectual property can refer to an objective ledger, which will help in achieving a more fair payment of royalties to the owners of copyrighted material.
Kim Eung-do, Director of CJ OliveNetworks’ DT Convergence Research Institute, put his faith in the system, stating that it will contribute to the improvement of the copyright management process in the country: “(...) it is very important to have a system that guarantees fairness and transparency among copyright stakeholders.”
The CJ Group has a remarkable market presence in multiple industries. These branches most notably include its K-beauty subsidiary OliveYoung and CJ OliveNetworks, the conglomerate’s IT division. If this system for monetizing royalties and copyright licenses is successful, it could pave the way for other industries to follow suit and enforce a similar system.
The new copyright management system aims to achieve a more fair payment scheme for creators and copyright holders of Korean music.
The very idea of traveling is oftentimes related to other ideas and processes that are not particularly exciting. In the end, traveling is expensive, and many of its processes can be very annoying or time wasting. Blockchain technology has seen multiple applications within the travel industry in an attempt to make traveling a less expensive and cumbersome endeavor.
One of the most prominent use cases where blockchain technology has been applied successfully in traveling is related to one of the earliest stages of the whole process—booking. Renowned booking platforms such as Expedia and Airbnb have made traveling more cost-effective, but these middlemen still apply hefty fees that have to be paid by the customer. In this regard, Lockchain and Travala are two emerging platforms that leverage blockchain technology in order to offer considerably lower booking prices. They use the blockchain as a database that holds listings and their availability, which also addresses the common problem of cancellation and refunds, caused by information not being up-to-date or readily accessible by travel agencies and hotels. A similar alternative is Beenest, a blockchain-based home-sharing platform that puts customers directly in touch with hosts, taking any intermediaries out of the equation.
Another common nuisance for travelers are the long waiting times caused by the multiple stations a traveler must go through in the airport, such as security and border control. Each one of these come with their own ID check, which makes the whole situation annoying. BlockID is a blockchain-based identity proofing and validation platform which amasses several forms of a user’s identity. On the platform, users can upload different identification documents which are then validated by the app by consulting different back-end sources, such as postal offices. By providing more identification documents, users can bump up their score within the app, which allows them to further streamline ID checks. BlockID is currently in its private beta phase, but one of its purported applications is to allow people to travel without physical IDs and reduce lines and check-in times at airports. A different initiative that intends to achieve this is Accenture’s Known Traveler Digital Identity System.
Other applications that can benefit travelers are blockchain-based loyalty reward projects like Loyyal, KeyoCoin, and Sandblock. Winding Tree, an application that recently partnered with Etihad Airways, is aimed at hotels and airlines, offering decentralized distribution services for inventory. Examples such as these, in addition to other potential applications such as luggage tracking, go to show that blockchain technology has a lot of potential within the travel industry.
Blockchain technology can address multiple issues that travelers have to regularly deal with, such as hefty booking fees and long lines at the airport.
All previous entries in this article dealt with recent applications that widen the scope of applicability of blockchain technology, but did you know that there are fields, such as food supply chain management, that have had a longer history of interaction with the technology?
Nearly all of the world’s leading companies in the food industry run computerized enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management software. With the addition of radio frequency identification (RFID), most products are tracked throughout their whole production chain. However, the fact that products are digitally tracked doesn’t mean that their current status is available to everyone involved in the stages of the supply chain process. Current processes that don’t leverage blockchain technology fail to successfully keep track of the food supply chain all the way back to the products’ origin, which makes it difficult for distributors and retailers to pinpoint exactly where a problem originated when something goes wrong (i.e. when food rots or is contaminated).
Blockchain technology is very useful with regards to food traceability as it allows all involved parties to be able to have access to necessary information about the product in a matter of minutes. Because of this, the field of food supply chain management was eager to embrace blockchain technology, and this soon materialized in different startups and initiatives. In fact, multiple food industry giants have decided to jump on the bandwagon of digitizing their products and tracing them through the blockchain, spearheading this new type of application. IBM, a multinational company with more than 100 years of history, launched the IBM Food Trust in October 2018, a blockchain-powered platform that tracks the food ecosystem throughout the entire production chain—from its early stages of production until the product reaches consumers’ hands.
Retail giant Walmart is one of the companies that worked with IBM, testing two proof-of-concept projects in the past, and is now developing a food traceability system based on the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric. This traceability system will track over 25 products from 5 different suppliers, and will eventually require all of its vegetable suppliers to adopt the new system to help prevent people from purchasing and consuming food that has been contaminated during its production stages.
That being said, food-related applications in the field of supply chain management are only one example of applications within the broader field of supply chain management. Giants from other industries, mining
, have also embraced blockchain technology for their supply chain management processes. In addition to this, there are also blockchain startups that are dedicated to improving supply chain processes across the board, such as Provenance, SKUChain, and VeChain.
In the past, faulty food supply chain management processes have caused big headaches, such as the 2006 outbreak of E. coli in uncooked spinach, which affected 26 US states and more than 270 consumers. With blockchain technology, food supply chain management can have more transparency, a better ability to identify counterfeit products, and more importantly, the ability to pinpoint where an outbreak or massive contamination first originated.
By leveraging blockchain technology, all stages of the supply chain are recorded on a ledger, which allows for the better identification of the source of problems.
Healthcare is also one of the industries that has a longer history of interacting with blockchain technology. Medical records and patient chart data are typically limited to locally centralized data, making it hard and expensive to get it across different institutions. According to 2016 research at the American Johns Hopkins Hospital, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US, with most of these accidents being caused by poorly coordinated data and overall systemic problems.
Medical Chain is one company that has seen the life-saving potential of using blockchain to keep track of all sorts of patient data. For more than two years now, and as the first UK-based company to use blockchain within the medical field, Medicalchain has been providing blockchain-based, patient-oriented services for the secure storage and use of electronic health records. One of those services is a doctor-to-patient platform for users to directly connect with healthcare professionals while sharing at the same time all the necessary medical information in real time. Another of the company’s developments is the Medicalchain bracelet, which is a device aimed at patients with chronic illnesses that allows them to carry private keys and other types of information as a digital summary record (i.e. allergies and next of kin details) which can be easily accessed by doctors by scanning a QR code or by using near field communications (NFC).
Other applications of a distributed ledger in the medical field include supervising drug intake and distribution, managing healthcare supplies, the sharing of patient data for research purposes. With blockchain technology, patients are also able to view their medical history and schedule medical appointments activated by smart contracts. Developing these protocols and use cases can lower the general costs of healthcare as well as improve its overall quality, reducing the possibility of fatal medical errors caused by misinformation or breaches in data.
Agents involved in the uploading of information into the blockchain to create the Medicalchain ecosystem.
The status of cryptocurrencies has always been at the center of a seemingly endless debate between crypto believers and deniers. Despite this, blockchain technology has proven to be a revolutionary development that has vastly outgrown its original role of being the underlying technology for a digital cash system. Thanks to the way in which it can store information while prioritizing transparency and security, blockchain technology is being applied in more fields, with novel applications being announced regularly. When Bitcoin started gaining mass traction, backers believed that it would revolutionize the global economy, but many didn’t foresee that its underlying technology would slowly improve and streamline our everyday lives as well.
Thank you for reading,
The COIN360 Editorial Team