A Look at IOTA's Infrastructure Projects
2021 was an intense year for those at the IOTA Foundation's working on infrastructure projects. Our work aimed at increasing the adoption of IOTA by acquiring public and private projects and developing infrastructure building blocks that simplify the integration of IOTA in various vertical domains.
After a full year working on increasing access to and simplifying integration with IOTA frameworks and the ledger network, now is the time to analyze what has been achieved and what are our next priorities.
We firstly focused on vertical Telecommunication projects, while growing a portfolio of new horizontal projects, covering several Smart-X (e-commerce, energy, health) domains.
IOTA and Telco in review
We embraced the challenge of establishing IOTA in the telecommunications domain. This was a continuation of activities started in 2019 following the IOTA Foundation’s participation in the TM Forum, a global alliance of over 850 service providers, technology suppliers, consultancies and systems integrators in the telecommunication industry. As part of this, we expanded our participation in the ™ Forum’s Catalyst innovation activities.
After half a year of planning, stakeholder meetings and technical implementations, the IOTA Foundation, together with telecommunications partners, presented two Catalyst implementations in October 2021.
In one of these Catalysts, sponsored by Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) and French multinational telecommunications corporation Orange, we demonstrated the integration of the IOTA ledger and IOTA Streams with Mavenir’s business support system. The objective was to establish an audit layer that guarantees service and business assurance whenever a communication service provider (also known as a telco operator) provides to its customers a service that requires establishing a 5G slice (i.e., a virtual network) across several other network providers (in practice, a roaming for data services). In this case, we considered a novel mobile health service that enables a counselor to offer remote assistance to a patient. This advanced experimental service leverages edge AI tools to automatically analyze the patient’s voice in real-time.
For such services to be able to function well, high throughput and low latency across the traversed network are must-haves. In the case of our mobile health service, the IOTA ledger is used to register service-level agreement (SLA) information based on slice orders (i.e., requests for networking hardware and software functions) for as well as business/service SLA measurements and violations. It provides a single source of truth recording for end-to-end Quality of Service and guarantees auditability in case of troubleshooting or billing issues.
This was the first-ever use of the IOTA E-commerce Services and, in particular, our Audit Trail Service. Thanks to the existing service APIs, the interaction of industry business support systems with IOTA Streams was achieved by wrapping our APIs to standard TMForum interfaces and APIs. This validated our assumption that the industry welcomes our API-based interaction with the ledger and its frameworks.
For more details about this mobile health project, check out our white paper, presentation and demo here.
In addition, we also worked on another Digital Business Marketplace Catalyst, as described in this article by our TMForum partners. DBM is designed to accelerate B2B2X partnerships so that Industry 4.0 and Smart X solutions can be deployed with certainty that the services leveraged and shopped on a digital marketplace are long term, secure, upgradeable and make financial sense for everyone involved. The IOTA Self Sovereign Identity (SSI) Bridge, part of the E-commerce Services, has been investigated to guarantee the security of IoT devices as well as control access to telco data lakes (i.e., raw data repositories). The project’s partners included British Telecom, Bearing Point and AWS and it has recently been awarded a Catalyst prize for Industry Contribution in the category “Beyond Connectivity”.
Although these projects are still at an early stage, their outcome will inform future activities and APIs to be developed by TMForum as part of its standardization work in the Open Digital Architecture. And with time, DLTs are expected to take a central place within this reference architecture. Receiving an award for promoting the concept of “repeatable patterns” leveraging DLTs in building marketplaces for various industries is a confirmation of this trend and interest for the telco industry in DLTs and their role in reference telco service architectures.
While this is a promising direction, the telecommunication industry has a complex ecosystem and standardization activities. For this reason, now that the seed of innovation is planted we will pause our activities in the Telco domain and wait for industry demand to grow.
Meanwhile, we will be working on several additional projects which aim to horizontally expand the scope of our infrastructure activities beyond telco.
First of all, we continue to write new European Commission project proposals. If successful, these projects will provide us with additional funding to continue developing tools and services that allow different vertical domains to easily integrate with IOTA technologies and infrastructure. Furthermore, these projects will allow us to work directly with industry stakeholders, understand real-world requirements, develop much-needed open source technology and begin testing potential new infrastructure services, without requiring the IOTA Foundation to take any risks with its funding.
Together with our external partners, we submitted six new grants in October 2021. We are still waiting for the final results, but we can already confirm that at least one new project will start this year. Stay tuned for more information!
We also continued to deliver on ongoing projects: the team currently works within +CityXChange, ENSURESEC, Dig_IT, ORCHESTRA and the recently-started SECANT project. Stay tuned for detailed blog posts on each project. In the meantime, you can find short updates in the following paragraphs.
At the same time as new projects will start, we enable the integration of ENSURESEC stakeholders with the Tangle and IOTA Identity through our e-commerce services (also known as Integration Services: see under “An agile way of collaborating” for more details). We are now in the final phase of the ENSURESEC project and the preparation of pilots with partners such as Caixa and G4S is currently underway. The objective is to show that digital identities can be used to secure e-commerce transactions, while IOTA Streams can help to share auditable and critical information that helps prevent cyber-physical threats in the logistic chain. Check this demo for age verification using IOTA Identities and Verifiable Credentials.
We have also started to discuss with ENSURESEC partners the possible exploitation strategies of our Integration Services within the e-commerce ecosystem. This might include the provisioning of a trusted permissioned network for e-commerce critical information sharing.
Working horizontally across projects and their requirements, and taking a product focus approach, has enabled us to identify and transfer the development of new features to the Integration Services roadmap. These include a Kafka connector to stream IoT data directly to the Tangle to satisfy the needs of the Dig_IT project. We also kicked off the design and development of UI widgets that allow us to manage graphical API workflows, which is useful when creating credential wallets for IoT devices (i.e., smart meters) for the +CityXchange project.
Last but not least, the ORCHESTRA project has started to define its use cases, and this is expected to generate new features that will be included in the roadmap of our Integration Services.
An agile way of collaborating
To meet the higher demand of technical innovation required by the individual projects, we have started to restructure the way we work together.
Instead of taking a siloed approach, with each project treated separately with its own requirements, codebase and team, we have decided to shift to a more horizontal way of collaboration. As part of this shift, we joined together the development efforts and requirements capturing to build a mature modular software architecture, which we have named Integration Services. A logic diagram of the architecture being developed so far is shown here:
The Integration Services abstracts the technical complexity of existing IOTA frameworks – in particular, IOTA Identity and IOTA Streams. Their usage is independent of any technology stack because the Integration Services can be accessed via REST APIs. All data is cached and can be accessed without long waiting times. Additionally, the Integration Services provide more functionality by allowing users to search for channels or validate channel data. Furthermore, it is easy to create and manage channels, channel subscriptions, and verifiable credentials. The service and underlying network infrastructure scale horizontally thanks to the cloud-native architecture built on Kubernetes. The services built on the initial Audit Trail Gateway and SSI Bridge, developed as part of the ENSURESEC project.
The existing infrastructure is being developed by including new services, using existing APIs, building new ones around integrated IOTA frameworks or as standalone microservices using node APIs. Each new service reflects one requested feature coping with the requirements of different projects.
A more detailed technical blog post and a set of tutorials will be released soon. Look out for them. In the meantime, you can look at the Integration Services page on the IOTA wiki and start testing your use cases.
Spreading the word
The end of 2021 saw a flurry of remote speaking opportunities, giving us opportunities to disseminate the results of our work. To be precise, we participated in a dozen events, mainly focused on data streams, digital identities, cybersecurity and IoT (EiC 2021, Nexsoft webinar, IoThings 2021).
We also continued to publish live tutorials online; you can find Dominic Zettl’s presentation to the Construction Blockchain Consortium here.
As well as our series of blog posts, we have also published an article in the Telegraph on how lightweight energy-efficient distributed ledgers bring green and ethical innovation to the e-commerce and logistic sectors.
In the future, we are committed to delivering on our projects while increasing the utility of the IOTA Tangle and promoting the adoption of the Integration Services and their new features. For this, we hope to be able to organize more face-to-face, hands-on workshops, tutorials and live demonstrations.
Stay tuned for more!