Blockchain received public attention with the widespread speculative, monetary gains generated by the cryptographically secure digital currencies, normally called crypto-currencies or digital money. Bitcoin and Ethereum are two of the most commonly used crypto-currencies with a market cap of more than $132 billion . In actuality, crypto-currencies are just a small piece of the blockchain pie. Applications of blockchain vary from cloud computing to food supply chain. For example, Walmart has recently used blockchain to track the origins of fresh foods as a solution to fight food-borne diseases such as E-Coli. Walmart’s implementation has illustrated the ability of a blockchain to reduce parsing time for a very large number of supply-chain records from days to seconds .
Blockchain can be thought of as a community-driven, real-time database that is fully decentralized and involves a fairly large number of user-nodes to act as data-keepers. The very structure of blockchain has envisioned a new era of data management systems that is fully reliable, fault tolerant, scam-proof, accurate, authentic, transparent, trustworthy, and above all free from centralized-control. One of the very first footprints of blockchain can be traced back to a time-stamping digital document where the basic idea was to design a system of transactions that could not be altered and helped to settle transactions in a fair fashion . Curiously, the following prose from Shakespeare summarizes the notion behind blockchain:
Blockchain, in its simplest form, is a chain of blocks where each block contains some verifiable record(s), and all the blocks are linked through their crypto-hashes. New records are registered (created) by appending new blocks along with their timestamps to the existing chain of blocks.
Blockchain is predicted to be a key player in reaping real benefits from 5G Networks. Its applications range from providing an autonomous platform for resource sharing, enabling ubiquitous edge computing, to content-based-storage; all of which are significantly different than contemporary scenarios associated with 4G . 5G is all about connecting heterogeneous devices and complex networks with a network of more than 50 billion devices. On one hand, millimeter waves and small cells are a critical building block of 5G, and enable high data rates and low latencies in addition to many other benefits. On the other hand, millimeter waves and small cells give rise to several challenges for example low transmission radiis, and interoperability among complex sub-networks. To overcome many of these challenges, 5G devices are expected to perform several collaborative tasks from routing and relaying to computing. For example, 5G can enable holographic communication within short distances without need of any cooperation among devices, but when this distance is large (or network is not homogeneous) the data transfer speed as well as the viability of the service drops significantly. This shortcoming is not limited to holographic communications, but many other realistic applications—ranging from e-health, M2M communications and factories of the future to the real-time analytics—suffer the same fate. In short, cooperation among 5G devices is necessary for its transformative success. Blockchain can enable such sort of massive cooperation as shown in Figure 1. This collaboration is necessary for many crucial scenarios such as network slice brokerage, mobile wallets, edge computing, M2M, healthcare, IoT, mobility management, smart roaming, and spectrum sharing.
Figure 1: 5G and Blockchain
Network slice and resource brokerage are key enablers to extend the reach of 5G to non- traditional venues. Blockchain can be a key element for successful realization of such ecosystems. Specifically, these ecosystems have a diverse set of requirements from frequent relaying to time-sensitiveness. Ensuring a wide range of requirements over existing infrastructure is a challenge that calls for innovative solutions such as network slicing. Network slicing ensures that a network is tailored to application requirements in an end-to-end fashion. For instance, a network—offered and maintained by several operators—can be partitioned into different slices like a mobile broadband slice, an IoT slice, and a mission-critical slice, to name a few. Resource sharing among end users and devices is going to play a vital role in the success of a network slicing mechanism , e.g., by performing relaying and edge computing. The resource sharing can either be voluntary or associated with some reward. For example, a cell phone user can be offered a reward in terms of an offset in their monthly bills.
A big challenge for network slice and resource brokerage is the need to maintain an open, transparent, and fair system within the extraordinary number of resources and several shady players. Blockchain is a natural choice for such a scenario. Figure 2 presents such a network slice and resource brokerage system developed by us. It consists of the following three major components:
1. Inventory of network resources, which represents a collection of network resources offered by type, slice, and/or geographic boundaries.
2. Match making, which matches buyers and sellers for network resources.
3. Clearing house, which deals with the transaction processing and authentication while ensuring QoX.
Here “X” stands for the performance parameter as per a buyer’s requirements., e.g., QoS, QoE, etc. Figure 3 depicts a realization of our proposed system, with the focus on blockchain dynamics, for a specific transaction where a user “A” requests a network resource from user “B”.
Figure 2: Network Slice and Resource Brokerage
Figure 3: Resource Brokerage: Blockchain Dynamics
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4. M.A.R. Chaudhry, “ Joint IEEE Spectrum and ComSoc Talk, Test and Measurement Virtualization and Blockchain: Enablers for 5G Networks,” Nov 13, 2018. https://bit.ly/2Qefaor
5. D. West, “How 5G technology enables the health internet of things.” Brookings Center for Technology Innovation 3 (2016).
Mohammad Asad Rehman Chaudhry is a seasoned professional, innovator, and thought- leader with extensive experience in multi-disciplinary projects in Information and Communication Technologies. Dr. Chaudhry received a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Texas A&M University. He currently spearheads projects in Blockchain, Software Defined Ecosystems, Big Data Systems, Next Generation Networks, and System Optimization. He is the Chair for The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Standards for Software Defined and Virtualized Ecosystems (SDN/NFV Performance). He is also Co- Founder and the Executive Director with Soptimizer, a Canadian start-up providing services and solutions to disruptive technologies.
Some of his previous roles include High Performance and Exascale Systems Team with IBM Research, a Research Fellow with Hamilton Institute, University of Toronto, a Network Scientist with RCUH for DARPA System F6, an Assistant Director of Huawei-UET Technology Joint Telecom Center, as well as a Faculty Member of the Electrical Engineering with the University of Calgary, and the University of Engineering and Technology. He is a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, the Presidential Scholarship, the Texas A&M Class Star Award, and Ontario Graduate Scholarship. He is an Ambassador, and a Diversity Champion for Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Canada.
Zakia Asad received a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada. She is the CTO with Soptimizer, Canada. She possesses extensive experience of both academia and industry, and has successfully led several projects ground-up.
Dr. Asad received the Schlumberger Fellowship, Edward S. Rogers Sr. Scholarship, Texas A&M ECE Scholarship, a PITB Fellowship, and Prof. KU Medal.