Vodafone harnesses blockchain for economy of things

  • March 2, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Vodafone has launched its economy-of-things platform that will allow devices to trade securely, such as electric vehicles (EV) transacting directly with charging points, and many other examples.

Compatible with existing mobile wallets, it is part of a worldwide partnership with Mastercard and Energy Web.

The global platform is said to take the world of connected devices to the next level by allowing them to trade securely with each other on a user’s behalf.

Drawing on the strength of its IoT platform – one of the world’s largest with more than 140 million connections – the new platform, called Digital Asset Broker (DAB), will help Vodafone users benefit from the economy of things, a world in which businesses across multiple industry sectors can transform physical goods into tradable digital assets that can compete in online markets via the platform.

Today, most connected devices and sensors collect and send information via the internet. The economy-of-things platform from Vodafone goes beyond that. It allows verified connected devices, vehicles, smart street furniture and machines to transact seamlessly and securely without human intervention, but with full owner control.

The number of connected devices is predicted to grow globally to 30 billion by 2025. With this platform and Vodafone’s geographical scale, rather than businesses building their own complex system, any device can be assigned a unique digital identity. It can then communicate and transact securely with other devices using wallet and payment technology secured by the mobile SIM.

In addition to devices on Vodafone’s global IoT platform, the company will also provide secure links to third-party platforms and their associated device ecosystems during 2022, drawing in many industries, from automotive and energy to manufacturing and supply chain and logistics.

The platform is secure. It uses blockchain technology meaning all devices and machines connected to Vodafone DAB are verified as trustworthy and then automatically allowed to exchange and trade data and money over secure and encrypted connections. As a result, companies can launch products that are quickly authenticated as being safe to do business with, no matter where they are, and devices are ready to make real-time financial transactions.

“We are building in-house new, scaled platforms for our customers across Europe and Africa,” said Johan Wibergh, Vodafone chief technology officer. “This, our latest platform, will drive the new economy of things where everyday objects and devices can negotiate, buy and sell services on our behalf. We are actively talking with many other companies to rapidly expand partnerships and widen the ecosystem worldwide to include other features and payment schemes.”

The service went live this week in a trial in which a connected EV communicated autonomously and securely with a charging point, in Newbury, UK. Working with Mastercard and Energy Web – a not-for-profit organisation focused on decarbonising energy grids – motorists are sent real-time information on the status and compatibility of the nearest available charging point and can authorise their vehicle to recharge effortlessly.

Vodafone believes the platform will eliminate range anxiety – the fear of running out of battery life – and enable users to choose consciously renewable electricity providers. Users are assured of the legitimacy of renewable energy sources since all vehicles or devices powered by Vodafone DAB are automatically entered into Energy Web’s system, which in turn provides an electronic provenance.

“Electrification is a major part of global decarbonisation efforts,” said Jesse Morris, CEO of Energy Web Foundation. “However, there’s currently no way for EV drivers to ensure that all the electricity used to charge their vehicles comes from renewable sources. As access to green energy is democratised, this is sorely needed. Working with any on-street EV charger, we can give individuals and companies assurance of clean energy use, a real game changer for EV users and companies with electric fleets.”

Business opportunities for Vodafone’s platform include a rental car charging motorists on either a pay-as-you-drive or subscription basis, a family car purchasing infotainment, smart meters and industrial intruder alarms that pay by direct debit, as well as the authentication of medical supplies and other goods to weed out fakes. In future, it will even be possible for coffee machines to order refills automatically or for a streetlight to exchange data about traffic flows with other smart city objects.

In addition, DAB solves the problem of most existing connected devices and systems tending to operate in isolation. If, for example, a vehicle needs to speak with a car park to book a space, it would typically require costly and time-consuming systems integration. The DAB platform provides a single point for trusted vehicles, or any other device, to interact across multiple car parks or systems.