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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

EdTech’s Growth Fueled by Coronavirus

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For years, tech adoption has been relatively slower in the education sector than in many other sectors. This has considerably changed when COVID-19 hit in early 2020 and triggered the closure of educational institutions all over the world. With classroom doors closed and conventional methods of education taking a setback, e-learning gained momentum like never before. From virtual classes to tutoring and conducting meetings online to learning new skills, the pandemic propelled EdTech into the spotlight, putting it on a growth trajectory.

Changing face of EdTech market

To control the spread of coronavirus, nearly 190 countries had implemented temporary school closures by the end of March 2020, disrupting education of more than 1.5 billion students. Over the coming days, as the count of people affected by the virus multiplied hourly, all educational institutions (including schools, colleges, universities, vocational training centers, and skill development institutions) were directed to remain shut until the situation improved, driving students to shift to online learning. This sudden change away from classroom learning has led to the adoption of online learning on a large scale.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, EdTech sector was estimated to reach a value of US$ 342 billion, growing at a CAGR of 13.1% between 2019 and 2025. The forecast revisions accounting for the impact of COVID-19 pandemic predict the global EdTech market to reach US$ 404 billion, with a CAGR of 16.3% by 2025. The sudden adoption of e-learning across educational institutions as well as an increasing need for upskilling courses by working-class individuals are driving the tech embracement in the COVID-19 pandemic scenario.

Moreover, with uncertainty still looming on reopening of educational establishments, technology will need to play a critical role across all aspects of education – content generation, knowledge consumption, and assessments. This is expected to intensify the pace at which digitization happens in the education sector.

Investment at an all-time high

Over the last decade (from 2010 to mid-2020), global EdTech venture capital funding stood at US$ 36.8 billion, of which more than 50% occurred since 2018. Investment in EdTech has sky-rocketed over the last few years – the sector witnessed investment of merely US$ 0.5 billion in 2010 but reached a striking figure of US$ 7 billion in 2019, 14 times more in a span of nine years. Even during COVID-19 pandemic, companies globally attracted US$ 4.5 billion in funding between January and July 2020, which is the highest ever funding raised during a comparable period in the last decade. It is expected that the trend will follow and the investments will grow further, anticipated at US$ 87 billion over the next decade.

During the coronavirus outbreak, the demand for e-learning increased manifold accelerating the investment spree in EdTech. While the USA is home to nearly 43% of the world’s EdTech companies’ (followed by India – 10%, Brazil – 9%, UK – 8%, and China – 3%), as of 2020, the companies that received the high value funding deals during COVID-19 period were situated elsewhere.

India-based online tutoring firm Byju’s raised more than US$ 1 billion from January through September 2020 (US$ 200 million in January from Tiger Global Management, USA-based investment firm; US$ 200 million in February from General Atlantic, USA-based equity firm;  US$ 23 million in June from Bond Capital, USA-based investment firm; US$ 122 million in August from DST GLobal, Hong Kong-based investment firm; US$ 500 million in September from Silver Lake, USA-based equity firm) to become the first company in the EdTech domain to reach a valuation of US$ 10.8 billion.

The second company was China-based Yuanfudao, an online live course platform, which raised US$ 1 billion in March 2020 from Hillhouse Capital (China-based private equity firm) and Tencent Holdings (China-based technology conglomerate).

Another noteworthy deal was also scored by China-based Zuoyebang, an online education tutoring provider, which received US$ 750 million funding from FountainVest Partners (private equity firm based in Hong Kong) and Tiger Global Management.

Moreover, mergers and acquisitions are also likely to grow in the near future considering many small players will not have the necessary finances and expertise to revamp their business model to the changing market needs and are likely to merge with or acquired by larger players.

EdTech’s Growth Fueled by Coronavirus by EOS Intelligence

Increased adoption of advanced technology

Short-term rush in additional demand for EdTech solutions brought by COVID-19 is also expected to give headway to increased adoption of advanced digital technologies in the future. Solutions based on technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and blockchain (we wrote about the role of blockchain in virtual education in our article Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector) are likely to gain more momentum and be integrated into core education delivery.

It is expected that by 2025 AR/VR market in EdTech will reach US$ 12.6 billion from US$ 1.8 billion in 2019, growing at a CAGR of 38.3%. AI is expected to observe CAGR of 40.29% between 2019 (from US$ 0.8 billion) and 2025 (to US$ 6.1 billion). Other technologies that will see a spike include robotics (expected to grow from US$ 1.3 billion to US$ 3.1 billion during the six-year period) and blockchain being increasingly incorporated into learning processes (expected to grow at a CAGR of 34.8% from US$ 0.1 billion to US$ 0.6 billion).

EOS Perspective

COVID-19 has proved to be a turning point for the EdTech industry and acted as a push for change that was already underway in the education sector. The pandemic downrightly disrupted the education system making online learning an essential part of the way we learn; however, it is unlikely that digital learning will become the new norm. Now, whether e-learning becomes the sole mode of education or blends with physical classes, the EdTech market has growth potential and the investment angle also looks bright.

Whilst a large number of players in EdTech sector were able to capitalize on the need for education during the pandemic, not all digital learning platform providers will stick around. In the long term, players with a clear-product concept and a well-defined monetization policy will emerge winners. They must also be thoughtful of the fact that the unforeseen growth the sector witnessed during the pandemic is only transient and once educational institutes reopen, the demand for online learning is likely to shrink (even if by a small percentage).

In terms of user adoption, EdTech companies saw significant growth by offering free access to their platforms. However, this is not a sustainable strategy that firms can adopt in the long run. Once things get back to normal and the free trials end, companies will need to attune their product pricing and come up with more affordable plans. Nevertheless, emerging on the winning side of the pandemic will not be easy for the players as they walk a very thin line in between offering innovative learning models and meeting market demands, while still being able to generate revenue and remain profitable.

Moreover, while the new users multiplied quickly, retaining them is easier said than done. Emphasis on service quality and overall delivery experience would be crucial to convert current free subscribers into paying customers.

Bearing in mind that the current momentary spike in demand for online tools is not directly proportional to increased business, EdTech companies need to revisit their business strategies to achieve long-term growth. As the competition increases, companies must tweak their commercial business model to adapt to changing customer requirements and to fulfil the need for on-demand educational lessons.

Additionally, the importance of collaborative partnerships with educational institutions (for their need of customized curriculum, creating teaching modules, and courses to train teachers) and corporates (need for upskilling employees on technical competencies) cannot be underestimated. Business models based on such partnerships are likely to open new avenues of revenue generation. This will also negate the per student acquisition cost for EdTech players.

Nevertheless, though the growth path for EdTech sector may have a few roadblocks, in the hindsight, the overall outlook towards the sector’s growth in the near future appears to be optimistic.


Read our other Perspectives on coronavirus here


 

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture

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In the first part of our series on agritech in Africa, we took a look into how IT and other technology investments are helping small farmers in Africa. In the second part, we are exploring the impact that potential application of advanced technologies such as blockchain can have on the African agriculture sector.

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, is already finding utility across several business sectors including financial, banking, retail, automotive, and aviation industries (click here to read our previous Perspectives on blockchain technology). The technology is finding its way in agriculture too, and has the potential to revolutionize the way farming is done.


This article is the second part of a two-piece coverage focusing on technological advancements in agriculture across the African continent.

Read part one here: Agritech in Africa: Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture


State of blockchain implementation in agriculture in Africa

Agricultural sector in Africa has already witnessed the onset of blockchain based solutions being introduced in the market. Existing tech players and emerging start-ups have developed blockchain solutions, such as eMarketplaces, agricultural credit/financing platforms, and crop insurance services. Companies, globally as well as within Africa, are harnessing applications of blockchain to develop innovative solutions targeted at key stakeholders across the food value chain.

Blockchain to promote transparency across agriculture sector

The most common application of blockchain in any industry sector (and not only agriculture) is creating an immutable record of transactions or events, which is particularly helpful in creating a trusted record of land ownership for farmers, who are traditionally dependent on senior village officials to prove their ownership of land.

Since 2017, a Kenyan start-up, Land LayBy has been using an Ethereum-based shared ledger to keep records of land transactions. This offers farmers a trusted and transparent medium to establish land ownership, which can then further be used to obtain credit from banks or alternative financing companies. BanQu and BitLand are other examples of blockchain being used as a proof of land ownership.

This feature of blockchain also enables creation of a transparent environment where companies can trace the production and journey of agricultural products across their supply chain. Transparency across the supply chain helps create trust between farmers and buyers, and the improved visibility of prices further down the value chain also enables farmers to get better value for their produce.

In 2017, US-based Bext360 started a pilot project with US-based Coda Coffee and its Uganda-based coffee export partner, ​​Great​ ​Lakes​ ​Coffee. The company developed a machine to grade and weigh coffee beans deposited to Great Lakes by individual farmers in East Uganda. The device uploads the data on a blockchain-based SaaS solution, which enables users to trace the coffee from its origin to end consumer. The blockchain solution is also used to make payments to the farmers based on the grade of their produce in form of tokens.

In 2017, Amsterdam-based Moyee Coffee also partnered with KrypC, a global blockchain, to create a fully blockchain-traceable coffee. The coffee beans are sourced from individual farmers in Ethiopia, and then roasted within the country, before being exported to the Netherlands.

This transparency can help food companies to isolate the cause of any disease outbreak impacting the food value chain. This also allows consumers can be aware of the source of the ingredients used in their food products.

Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Blockchain-based platforms to improve farmer and buyer collaboration

Blockchain can also act as a platform to connect farmers with vendors, food processing, and packaging companies, providing a secure and trusted environment to both buyers and suppliers to transact without the need of a middleman. This also results in elimination of margins that need to be paid to these intermediaries, and helps improve the margins for buyers.

Farmshine, a Kenyan start-up, created a blockchain-based platform to auger trade collaboration among farmers, buyers, and service providers in Kenya. In January 2020, the company also raised USD$250,000 from Gray Matters Capital, to finance its planned future expansion to Malawi.

These blockchain platforms can also be used to connect farmers to other farmers, for activities such as asset or land sharing, resulting in more efficiency in economical farming operations. Blockchain platform can also enable small farmers to lease idle farms from their peers, thereby providing them with access to additional revenue sources, which they would not be able to do traditionally.

AgUnity, an Australian-start-up established in 2016, developed a mobile application which enables farmers to record their produce and transactions over a distributed ledger, offering a trusted and transparent platform to work with co-operatives and third-party buyers. The platform also enables farmers to share farming equipment as per a set schedule to improve overall operational and cost efficiency. In Africa, AgUnity has launched pilot projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, targeted at helping farmers achieve better income for their produce.

A Nigerian start-up, Hello Tractor uses IBM’s blockchain technology to help small farmers in Nigeria, which cannot afford tractors on their own, to lease idle tractors from owners and contractors at affordable prices through a mobile application.

Smart contracts to transform agriculture finance and insurance

Less than 3% of small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have adequate access to agricultural insurance coverage, which leaves them vulnerable to adverse climatic situations such as droughts.

Smart contracts based on blockchain can also be used to provide crop-insurance, which can be triggered given certain set conditions are met, enabling farmers to secure their farms and family livelihood in case of extreme climatic events such as floods or droughts.

SmartCrop, an Android-based mobile platform, provides affordable crop insurance to more than 20,000 small farms in Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda through blockchain-based smart contracts, which are triggered based on intelligent weather predictions.

Netherlands-based ICS, parent company of Agrics East Africa (which provides farm inputs on credit to small farmers in Kenya and Tanzania) is also exploring a blockchain-wallet based saving product, “drought coins”, which can be encashed by farmers depending on the weather conditions and forecasts.

Tracking of assets (such as land registries) and transactions on the blockchain can also be used to verify the farmers’ history, which can be used by alternative financing companies to offer loans or credits to farmers – e.g. in cases when farmers are not able to get such financing from traditional banks – transforming the banking and financial services available to farmers.

Several African start-ups such as Twiga Foods and Cellulant have tried to explore the use of blockchain technology to offer agriculture financing solutions to small farmers in Africa.

In late 2018, Africa’s leading mobile wallet company, Cellulant, launched Agrikore, a blockchain-based digital-payment, contracting, and marketplace system that connects small farmers with large commercial customers. The company started its operations in Nigeria and is exploring expansion of its business to Kenya.

In 2018, Kenya-based Twiga Foods (that connects farmers to urban retailers in an informal market) partnered with IBM to launch a blockchain-based lending platform which offered loans to small retailers in Kenya to purchase food products from suppliers listed on Twiga platform.


Read our previous Perspective Africa’s Fintech Market Striding into New Product Segments to find out more about innovative fintech products for agriculture and other sectors financing in Africa


And last, but not the least, blockchain or cryptocurrencies can simply be used as a mode of payment with a much lower transaction fee offered by traditional banking institutions.

Improving mobile internet access to boost blockchain implementation

While blockchain has shown potential to transform agriculture in Africa, its implementation is limited by the lack of mobile/internet access and technical know-how among small farmers. As of 2018, mobile internet had penetrated only 23% of the total population in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the GSM Association predicts mobile internet penetration to improve significantly over the next five years, to ~39% by 2025. Improved access to internet services is expected to boost the farmers’ ability to interact with the blockchain solutions, thereby increasing development and deployment of more blockchain-based solutions for farmers.

EOS Perspective

Agritech offers an immense opportunity in Africa, and blockchain is likely to be an integral part of this opportunity. Blockchain has already started witnessing implementation in systems providing proof of ownership, platforms for farmer cooperation, and agricultural financing tools.

Unlike Asian and Latin American countries, African markets have shown a relatively positive attitude towards adoption of blockchain, a fact that promises positive environment for development of such solutions.

At the moment, most development in blockchain agritech space is concentrated in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Ghana. However, there is potential to scale up operations in other countries across Africa as well, and some start-ups have already proved this (e.g. Farmshine was able to secure the necessary financing to expand its presence in Malawi). Other companies can follow suit, however, that would only be possible with the help of further private sector investments.

Still in the nascent stages of development, blockchain solutions face an uncertain future, at least in the short term, and are dependent on external influences to pick up growth they need to impact the agriculture sector significantly. However, once such solutions achieve certain scalability, and become increasingly integrated with other technologies, such as Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, blockchain has the capability of completely transform the way farming is done in Africa.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Agritech in Africa: Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture

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Agriculture technologies in Africa have been undergoing significant development over the years, with many tech start-ups innovating information and communications technologies to support agriculture at all levels. While some technologies have been successfully launched, some are in initial stages of becoming a success. Private sector investments have been the key driving factor supporting the development of agriculture technologies in Africa. In the first part of our series on agritech in Africa, we are examine what impact and opportunities arise from the use of these technologies in Africa.

Agriculture plays a significant role in Africa’s economy, contributing 32% to the continent’s GDP and employing 65% of the total work force (as per the World Bank estimates). Nearly 70% of the continent’s population directly depends on agribusiness. Vast majority of farmers work on small scale farms that produce nearly 90% of all agricultural output.


This article is the first part of a two-piece coverage focusing on technological advancements in agriculture across the African continent.

Read part two here: Agritech in Africa: How Blockchain Can Help Revolutionize Agriculture


Agriculture in Africa has been under the pressure of many challenges such as low productivity, lack of knowledge and exposure to new farming techniques, and lack of access to financial support, especially for the small-scale farmers. These challenges are prompting investments in newer technologies to enhance the productivity through smart agriculture techniques.

Lately, there have been an increased use of various technologies in agriculture in Africa, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Open Source Software, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Drones/Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and Big Data Analytics. Many tech start-ups have developed solutions targeting various aspects of agriculture, including finance, supply chain, retailing, and even delivering information related to crops and weeds. These solutions are accessible to farmers through front-end devices such as smart phones and tablets, or even SMS.

Agritech in Africa - Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Start-ups lead agritech development in Africa

Many agritech start-ups in Africa have come up with solutions that have led to a rise in productivity of the farms. Drones have been a breakthrough technology, helping farmers oversee their crops, and manage their farms effectively. Drones use highly focused cameras to capture picture of crops, soil or weeds. This, coupled with big data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), provides insights to farmers, saving their time and effort, while also helping them find potential issues which could impact the productivity of their farms.

There are various agritech start-ups that are developing such drones, and providing them to farmers for rent or lease to analyse their crops and farms. A South African agritech start-up, Aerobotics, offers an end-to-end solution to help farmers manage their farms using drones, through early detection of any crop-related problems, and offering curative measures for the problems using an AI-based analytics platform. The company partners with drone manufacturing companies such as DJI and Micasense to deliver these solutions.

Acquahmeyer, another start-up based in Ghana, also provides drones to its farming customers to help them use a comprehensive approach to apply crop pest control and plant nutrition management for their farms.

Advent of advanced technologies such as IoT is also helping farmers to adopt smart farm management through the use of smart sensors connected in a network. This helps every farmer to get granular details of the crops, soil, farming equipment, or livestock, enabling the farmers to devise appropriate farming approaches.

Kenya-based UjuziKilimo provides solution for analyzing soil characteristics using electronic sensor placed in the ground. This helps farmers with useful real-time insights into soil conditions. The solution further utilizes big data analytics to guide the farmers, by offering insights through SMS on their connected mobile phones or tablets.

Hello Tractor, a Kenyan start-up, provides an IoT solution, through which farmers can have access to affordable tractors which are monitored virtually through a remote asset tracking device on the tractor, sharing data over the Hello Tractor Cloud. Farmers, booking agents, dealers, and tractor owners are connected via IoT. The company is also collaborating with IBM to incorporate artificial intelligence and blockchain to their solutions.

AI has also witnessed a rapid growth in adoption across agriculture sector in Africa. Agrix Tech, based in Cameroon, has developed a mobile application that requires the farmers to capture the picture of diseased crop, which is then analyzed via AI to detect crop diseases, and helps the farmers with treatment solution to save their crops.

AI is also helping Kenyan farmers with the knowledge on planting the right crops at the right time. Tech giant, Capgemini, has teamed up with a Kenyan social enterprise in Kakamega region in Western Kenya to use artificial intelligence to analyze farming data, and then send insights about right time and technique of planting crops to the farmers’ cell phones.

There are other agritech solutions that include mobile applications which use digital platforms such as cloud computing to reach out to farmers, and provide them with apt agriculture solutions. Ghana-based CowTribe offers a mobile USSD-based subscription service which enables livestock farmers to connect with veterinarians for animal vaccines and other livestock healthcare services using cloud-based logistics management system. The company focuses on managing the schedules, and delivering the right service to the livestock farmers, to help them safeguard their animals from any health-related problems.

Several agritech investments are also impacting the financial side of agriculture. Kenya-based Apollo Agriculture provides solutions related to financing, farm inputs, advice insurance and market access through the use of agronomic machine learning, remote sensing, and mobile technology using satellite data and cloud computing.

Another Nigerian start-up Farmcrowdy has developed Nigeria’s first digital agriculture platform that provides financial support to the farmers by allowing those outside the agriculture industry to sponsor individual farms.

Several other agritech start-ups across the continent, such as Ghana-based Farmerline and AgroCenta, and Nigeria-based Kitovu have also launched data-driven mobile application for farmers. These technology solutions are proving to be a boon for agriculture sector in Africa, helping improve the overall efficiency and productivity.

Agritech in Africa - Cultivating Opportunities for ICT in Agriculture by EOS Intelligence

Agritech development is concentrated in Kenya and Nigeria

But, when it comes to first adopting the newest technologies and starting an agritech business in agriculture, Kenya and Nigeria have been leading in the adoption of new agritech solutions, accounting for a significant share of agritech start-up across Africa. Kenya has played a pioneering role in bringing agritech in Africa since 2010-2011, when the first wave of agritech start-ups began to bring new niche innovations. Currently, Kenya accounts for 25% of all the agritech start-ups in Africa, and the development is progressing rapidly, thanks to the country’s advancement in technology, high smartphone penetration, and relatively widespread internet access.

Similarly, Nigeria too has sailed the boat of success in agritech start-ups since 2015, and now it accounts for 23.2% of total agritech start-ups in Africa, with include major players such as Twiga Foods, Apollo Agriculture, Agrikore, and Tulaa. The growing inclination amongst Nigerian farmers towards using digital tools in agriculture sector has further pushed the rapid development in agritech sector in the country.

Other countries have also shown potential for agritech development, though it is still in the initial stages of becoming mainstream in their agriculture sectors. Ghana has encouraged several start-ups to launch different technology innovations for making agriculture more sustainable, while South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have also witnessed the rise in agritech start-ups over the years with newer technologies for agriculture sector.

Recent investments highlight the agritech potential

The agriculture technologies in Africa got the boost from the increased private funding. According to a report by Disrupt-Africa released in 2018, there has been a total investment of US$19 million in agritech sector since 2016. These investments have largely focused on funding agritech start-ups working on bringing innovative agriculture technologies. Also, according to the same report, the number of agritech start-ups rose by 110% from 2016 to 2018.

Some of the recent investments in the agritech sector include Kenya’s Twiga Foods, a B2B food distribution company, which raised US$30 million from investors led by Goldman Sachs in October 2019. The company aims to set-up a distribution centre in Nairobi to offer better supply chain services, while also expanding to more cities in Kenya, including Mombasa.

In December 2019, Kenya-based agritech start-up Farmshine, also raised US$25 million in funding from US-based Gray Matter’s Capital coLabs (GMC coLabs), to expand its operations in Malawi. GMC coLabs also invested US$1 million in another Kenyan B2B agritech start-up Taimba in July 2019. Taimba provides a mobile-based cashless platform connecting smallholder farmers to urban retailers. The investment was focused on strengthening Taimba’s infrastructure and increase the delivery logistics to cater to new markets.

Cellulant, a leading pan-African digital payments service provider that offers a real-time payment platform to farmers, also raised US$47.5 million from a consortium of investors in May 2018, which is the largest investment in the African tech industry till date. Cellulant also plans to channel a significant portion of funds into its Agrikore subsidiary, an agritech start-up dealing with blockchain based smart-contracting, payments, and marketplace system.

EOS Perspective

African agritech is expected to witness high growth in future. According to a CTA report on Digitalization for Agriculture (D4Ag) published in 2018, digital agriculture solutions are likely to reach 60-100 million smallholder famers, while generating annual revenues of nearly US$320- US$470 million by the end of 2020.

Adoption and use of innovative technologies such as remote sensing, diagnostics, IoT sensors for digitalization of agriculture is steadily moving from experimental stage to full-scale deployment, contributing to the data revolution in agriculture, while also unlocking new business models and opportunities.

Apart from these, blockchain is gaining prominence, and finding applications in the agriculture sector in Africa. This technology has the potential to significantly impact the agriculture sector, which we will discuss in the second part of our series on Agritech in Africa.

However, lack of affordability and knowledge to access such technologies, especially by small-scale farmers, has restricted the growth and reachability of these solutions. With the need to educate farmers and make such technology affordable and viable, it is likely that it may take at least 5-7 years before these technologies become truly mainstream in the continent.

A disparity of investments has been observed among the countries in the region. Over the years, countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana have experienced a strong growth in terms of private investments, while other countries are left wanting. Investors have prioritized easy-to-reach markets in Africa, leaving behind the lower-income markets, resulting in agritech becoming less sustainable and scalable in these markets. However, several other African countries have shown the appetite to adopt agritech solutions, and offer significant potential.

This requires an intervention and participation from both governments and private investors, which can help improve scalability of agriculture technologies in the region. Implementation of farming digital literacy, public-private partnerships, and increased private sector investments in agritech enterprises can help the agritech industry experience a consistent and higher success rate, thus bringing the agriculture technology to a mainstream at faster pace.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Blockchain: a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic

SARS-COV-2 has brought the world to a standstill. Technology and its creative uses have been playing a pivotal role in sustaining lives during the pandemic as well as combating the crisis. One such technology that has been in the forefront of the pandemic is blockchain. From mitigating supply chain issues with medicines and protection gear to facilitating transparency in donations to effectively tracking the spread of the virus and protecting patient privacy, blockchain technology is being applied across the spectrum to contain and manage the outbreak.

The current pandemic has brought to light many inefficiencies and limitations of the existing global healthcare systems, wherein governments across the globe are grappling to control the outbreak, challenged by the lack of a unified interconnected and trusted network to share data and track cases. Blockchain has several inherent properties, such as decentralized ledger, transparency, immutability, that make it suitable for handling and managing various aspects of containing the pandemic.

Outbreak tracking

Global health authorities and governments across the globe are having a hard time gathering authentic data regarding tests and patient numbers, hospital beds, recoveries, etc. Currently, most of the data circulating is disparate, and comes from multiple sources, such as hospitals, labs, public, and media, instead of one authorized source. This is extremely damaging since this results in the creation of a great amount of inaccurate and duplicate data, which if trusted, makes the process of tracking and containment both time consuming and ineffective. This is counter-productive to the management of a disease that is as fast spreading as COVID-19.

Blockchain technology can come to play in effectively tackling this issue. Owing to its distributed and immutable nature, blockchain can provide a feasible solution for tracking the outbreak. Blockchain-based apps facilitate organizations across the globe to form a single connected network where data can be shared in real time and securely. Moreover, since data stored in blockchain is immutable, it is protected against unauthorized changes and its distributed nature ensures protection against fraudulent data (since each entry requires consensus algorithms and smart contracts). Lastly, blockchain efficiently manages high volumes of data (as in the cases of the COVID pandemic) in a real time basis, which cannot be managed using human resources.

However, in addition to these factors, the aspect that stands out the most and makes blockchain technology ideal for monitoring and managing outbreak-related information is the level of privacy it offers. People do not wish for their information to be shared publicly or be used for other purposes. Thus it is a challenge to get patients to collaborate with governments and healthcare institutions to share information regarding their condition and wellness. For instance, the Israel government recently permitted healthcare institutions to track citizens’ mobile phones to control the spread of coronavirus. This has raised concerns from human rights organizations as citizens are not comfortable with sharing their personal information.

Since blockchain uses a distributed ledger, which ensures accountability and transparency with regards to access to its stored data, the information shared through blockchain cannot be extracted or misused. Moreover, information stored in a blockchain cannot be hacked. This encourages patients to share information regarding their condition, symptoms, location, and underlying health conditions without fear of the information being misused or shared with any third-party.

Furthermore, information shared by patients in a blockchain network may not only be used for tracking the outbreak but also facilitate health centers study the disease characteristics and patterns to develop treatment and solutions.

For instance, WHO has been using a blockchain-based data streaming platform, called MiPasa, which facilitates the sharing of information amongst need-to-know organizations such as state authorities and health officials. The platform is built on top of Hyperledger Fabric and partners with IBM for blockchain and cloud platforms. The application cross-references siloed location data with health information to track and prevent the spread of the outbreak, all while protecting patient privacy.

In another example, Atlanta-based developer of blockchain-enabled healthcare applications, Acoer, developed an application called HashLog, which allows real time logging and data visualization of the spread of the infection. HashLog provides real-time updates on the spread of the disease by tracking movement of infected people to identify potential outbreaks and prevent further spread. The application uses the Hedera Hashgraph distributed ledger technology and each entry is recorded through a verified hash reference on the ledger, ensuring that the data is correct.

Donations

In addition to tracking and preventing outbreaks, blockchain also plays an important role in securing donations. From hospitals and state authorities with insufficient funds for medical supplies to economically-weaker sections of the populations losing source of income due to lockdown, the current pandemic has displaced a huge number of people across the globe. Thus in such times, donations play a critical role in sustaining livelihoods and providing healthcare supplies to the affected people. However, given fraud associated with donations in recent times, lack of trust is a common factor affecting success of donations. Several individuals want to help and donate, however, are discouraged due to fear of their money being misused.

For instance in India, the government and police warned citizens against several fake relief schemes that have been floating in the name of COVID-19 relief, some even mirroring the Prime Ministers Relief Fund. These kind of activities deter willing people from donating.

Blockchain technology can be used to effectively combat this issue. Since all transactions in blockchain are secure, transparent, and traceable, donors can track their funds and see where they are utilized. This gives confidence to donors that their funds are being used for the exact purpose that they intended.

One such example is Hangzhou-based blockchain startup Hyperchain, which built a blockchain-based donation tracking platform for supporting government and hospitals (such as Tangshan People’s Hospital, Jiayu People’s Hospital and Xiantao No. 1 People’s Hospital) in the donation process. The platform has attracted more than US$2 million in donations.

 

Blockchain a Frontline Warrior in Battling Coronavirus Pandemic by EOS Intelligence

Supply chain tracking

Blockchain technology has been deemed extremely useful in managing and tracing the supply chain in several sectors as retail (for more insights on this read our article Blockchain Paving Its Way into Retail Industry). However, given the current pandemic, the technology can also utilize similar functionalities and play a significant role in tracking of medical supplies.

Given the pace of spread of COVID-19, authorities and healthcare organizations across the globe have faced a shortage of medical supplies, such as masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, ventilators, testing equipment, as well as some medicines. This drastic increase in demand has resulted in distribution of large number of counterfeit and faulty products. Blockchain technology can play a significant role to combat this. Given the data provenance in blockchain and its immutable nature, it is possible to identify and trace back every touchpoint of the medical supplies to ensure its authenticity.

In addition to filtering counterfeit products, blockchain also helps streamline the supply chain process to ensure hospitals and doctors secure timely supplies to treat patients. Blockchain can provide real-time updates regarding demand so that medical manufacturers can adjust production levels accordingly. In addition, it can help fast-track supply chain contracts through the use of smart contracts, and facilitate faster payments, thereby improving the overall efficiency.

In February 2020, China-based AliPay, along with the Zhejiang Provincial Health Commission and the Economy and Information Technology Department, launched a blockchain-based platform to facilitate the tracking of medical supplies required for fighting SARS-COV-2. The platform has improved trust within the medical supply chain since it records and tracks the entire provenance of preventive supplies including masks, gloves, and PPE kits.

Apart from medical supply chain, blockchain can also help limit supply chain disruptions faced by several other industries due to lockdown in several parts of the world. However, companies that are using blockchain for managing their supply chain have an advantage as they have better visibility into their complete supply chain and thereby can identify points of disruption in a timely manner.

Avoiding future pandemics

Blockchain is on the front line for fighting the current pandemic, but it also has the potential to prevent future disease outbreaks. Most of current healthcare surveillance systems across the globe are outdated and lack the required timeliness and efficiency in sharing information with local as well as international health enforcement organizations. Moreover, sometimes there is a question of deliberate delay in sharing of critical information.

To this effect, blockchain-based health surveillance systems can help mitigate future outbreaks. Since they operate on a decentralized ledger, the surveillance data is transparently available to health organizations across the globe in a real-time manner, without the fear of any political disruptions. Timely knowledge of a potential outbreak is the first and most critical step in preventing a similar situation in the future.

In addition to the above mentioned applications, blockchain companies along with institutions are developing creative solutions that help reduce challenges faced by people due to COVID in their day to day living. For instance, Toronto-based blockchain company, Emerge, launched a public safety app called Civitas, which assists the citizens and local authorities across Latin America. This app matches one’s official ID to confidential medical records stored in the blockchain to identify whether the person is allowed to leave the house or not. Thus the app allows police to verify if the person has a travel permission just on the basis of their government ID and without gaining access to the person’s medical records. The app also determines the safest time and day for going out for essentials for people who are experiencing COVID-like symptoms.

Moreover, as discussed in our previous article (Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector) blockchain also is extremely useful in the virtual education scenario, which is now the new way of schooling for large part of students across the globe.

EOS Perspective

Blockchain technology has several inherent properties that make it ideal for helping to manage and combat the current pandemic. Its decentralized, traceable, and immutable properties make is especially desirable for managing contact tracing and outbreak tracking, which are critical in handling a pandemic efficiently. Moreover, the benefits of blockchain are further amplified when used alongside other technologies, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data.

However, despite its several uses, the issue of scalability plagues blockchain adaption at a larger scale. Blockchain is still a nascent technology and lacks high-level scalability. With COVID affecting most of the world, the current blockchain companies do not have that level of scalability to provide all-encompassing global level solutions.

Furthermore, blockchain technology does not operate alone and it needs to be configured with the operating legacy system at companies and other stakeholders. However, most legacy systems are relatively old and therefore do not support blockchain technology. Updating or reconfiguring a legacy system is a tedious process (both in terms of time and money) and companies may not want to tie up resources for that at the current time.

Given these drawbacks, blockchain may not be deployed at a global-scale level during this pandemic, however, its inherent benefits have made companies, authorities, and global health organizations ponder, explore, and evaluate its potential in managing such situations in the future. While the COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world largely unprepared, organizations and companies across the globe are gearing up to ensure this history is not repeated and blockchain technology has emerged as a critical part of the solution.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

The Future of Urban Mobility Is “Up, in the Air”

Traffic congestion is a major problem in most metropolitan areas globally. Ever-rising number of vehicles exceed the road infrastructure capacities, prompting the need to look for possibilities of transportation beyond roads. Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles – more commonly known as air taxis, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or autonomous air vehicles (AAVs) – are considered as a genuine solution to the problem. While they are still in nascent stage of development, we look at the opportunities that may arise in the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) market.

Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing, or eVTOLs, for a layman, can simply be defined as electric-powered vehicles that have vertical take-off or landing capabilities similar to a helicopter, minimizing the space required to become air-borne.

While the concept dates back to the early 2010s, development in the eVTOL space has gathered pace since 2016, when Uber released its Uber Elevate white paper envisaging its plans to present a working test prototype by 2020, and commercially launch an air taxi service in 2023.

Future of Urban Mobility is Up in the Air by EOS Intelligence

State of eVTOL development

Uber’s announcement acted as a stimulus for eVTOL manufacturers to fast-track the development and testing of their aerial commuter vehicles. Several leading eVTOL manufacturers have conducted unmanned and manned testing of their prototypes in controlled air spaces across major cities across the world, with a view to ensure the operability and safety of these air taxis for commercial deployment.

In 2016, Germany-based Volocopter became the first manufacturer to get a permit to fly its eVTOL prototype in Germany. In 2017, the company conducted a successful public demonstration of its air taxi – making an unmanned flight near Jumeirah Beach Park in Dubai, with an aim to launch a commercial pilot air taxi program in Dubai in early 2020s. Since then, the company has completed similar tests in the USA in 2018 and Singapore in 2019.

Chinese company EHang has stolen a march on its competitors, becoming the first company to successfully commercialize passenger-grade autonomous aerial vehicles. As of December 2019, the company had delivered 38 two-seater passenger-grade air taxi (EHang 216) to private customers globally.

Uber has also entered in partnerships with several eVTOL manufacturers (mostly companies owned or backed by aircraft manufactures), engineering firms, real estate companies, and research organizations, over the past four years, including Joby Aviation, Aurora Flight Sciences (a Boeing subsidiary), Embraer, Bell, Pipistrel, Karem Aircraft, Jaunt Air Mobility, and Hyundai.

Other key manufacturers such as Lilium, Opener, Kitty Hawk, and Airbus have also conducted multiple flight tests globally since 2017.

Future of Urban Mobility is Up in the Air by EOS Intelligence

Companies have also taken initiatives to develop other critical components of the air taxi business. Uber entered into a partnership with NASA in 2017 to develop unmanned air traffic and airspace management systems, which could help Uber smoothly drive its air taxi operations.

Companies are also partnering with real estate companies to develop dedicated infrastructure which could act as nodes for any air taxi network, as well as with power solutions providers to deploy vehicle charging solutions at these nodes.

Capital investments

Various analyst firms believe that eVTOLs present a high growth opportunity. Deloitte, for example, forecasts the eVTOL market to be valued at US$3.4 billion in 2025, and grow to US$17.7 billion by 2040 – a CAGR of 11.6%. German consulting firm Horvath & Partners estimates the number of air taxis could exceed 23,000 by year 2035.

Investors are banking on this growth potential, which is evident from the amount of investments flowing into eVTOL development companies.

In January 2020, US-based Joby Aviation raised US$590 million in Series C funding led by Toyota (which invested US$394 million), making it the most funded eVTOL start-up globally. Volocopter also raised U$55 million in September 2019 in series of funding led by China-based Geely group. Lilium, which is backed by Tencent, is also looking to raise more than U$400 million for its eVTOL business through venture capital.

EOS Perspective

…on opportunities in UAM Space

Uber’s air taxi vision has created opportunities for multiple stakeholders across the air taxi value chain. Several aircraft and automotive companies are participating to develop commercially practical and viable eVTOL vehicles, while real estate companies are delving into design infrastructure solutions for vehicle landing and take-off.

Innovators are teaming up to develop new-age solutions which would be able to manage air space and aerial traffic, while also ensuring the safety of the commuters (both in the air and on the land).

There will be opportunities for analytics companies – whether it is related to determining the service prices (pricing analytics) or creating innovating customer solutions (such as loyalty programs). Once eVTOLs are commercially deployed, after-market ancillary and repair solutions are also expected to gain demand.

Additionally, the social impact of these air taxis – which will help generate employment opportunities for both technical and non-technical personnel – cannot be underestimated.

…on Uber’s plans to commercialize air taxis

Uber’s plans to commercially launch an air taxi service by 2023 might perhaps be a bit too optimistic. However, given the state of the development of eVTOLs and the level of support it is generating from governments in its key target markets (including the USA, Australia, and Japan), the goal may be achievable – more likely by 2025.

However, the initial deployment, which is expected to comprise only 40-50 eVTOLs, is likely to be limited to the affluent section of the potential customers, due to limited access and high costs of such service.

Such services may be able to reach mass consumers only once the eVTOLs have a widespread deployment, which is unlikely to happen before 2030.

An extensive deployment and increased mileage (either in the form of distance covered or number of flights) is likely to help achieve operational efficiencies, eventually leading to lower pricing of air taxi services, making them more affordable for mass consumers. Uber plans to bring the pricing of its air taxi services at levels similar to that of its UberX service in the long run.

Whether Uber is able to achieve its target or not, the urban air mobility market shows significant potential and attracts considerable interest. Given the current level of development in eVTOL space and partnerships to build related infrastructure, there is a definite sense of optimism – the future of urban mobility is definitely “up, in the air”.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector

Blockchain has now been widely accepted as a technology offering superior capabilities when it comes to data security, transparency, and immutability. This has made it extremely relevant in industries, such as finance and healthcare, where security is critical. However, after getting a foothold in such industries, the technology is extending its reach beyond current uses into other sectors. One such industry is education, where blockchain can facilitate a safe, secure, and auditable ledger covering all education-based data and transactions. However, since blockchain is still new and relatively unexplored in this space, its wide applicability and commercial acceptability is yet to be proven.

Blockchain is fast finding its ground across several industries and education industry seems to be no exception. While still behind in terms of implementation, especially when compared with other sectors such as finance and healthcare, education sector is exploring various blockchain-based applications that can improve data security, facilitate degree verification, and prevent plagiarism, among other things.


Read our other articles on blockchain where we talk about the technology gaining prominence in several industries, including healthcare, retail, banking, car rental, and aviation.


Data breach/security

Industries such as finance and health have been using blockchain to protect their customers’ data. Blockchain can find similar application in the education sector, which is also highly susceptible to data breaches. As per Gamalto, a Netherlands-based international digital security firm, in 2017, the education sector was third (after finance and healthcare industry) with regards to the highest number of experienced data breaches, accounting for 13% of all data breaches across industries.

The use of blockchain to protect student information and records can help mitigate the issue of data breaches. With schools and universities storing data digitally on blockchain, they would be able to store and share student data without making it accessible to hackers. Moreover, data stored on blockchain would help improve transparency and accuracy, reduce human errors and paper-based processes, and eliminate fraudulence.

With schools and universities storing data digitally on blockchain, they would be able to store and share student data without making it accessible to hackers.

Data being stored on blockchain also helps employers be assured that the candidate or student seeking employment has authentic degrees and qualifications.

In February 2019, the Maltese government signed a contract with blockchain startup, Learning Machine, to store all educational records and certificates in the country on a blockchain. The project is a two-year pilot project and aims at ensuring that all educational certificates, including university and secondary school certificates (encompassing state, church, and independent schools), are issued and stored on blockchain. The project is expected to minimize bureaucracy and provide greater security for students’ private data.

Data access and verification

Currently, most institutions store student data within their own systems and the student needs to approach the university to obtain the certification. Alternatively, prospective employers need to verify the authenticity of a candidate’s certificates from the respective university/institution. In cases where a student has multiple degrees and certification, this process becomes cumbersome and susceptible to errors.

Blockchain-based diplomas can offer an easy solution to this issue. With certifications being stored on a blockchain, students can obtain fast and easy access to their records and can share them with potential employers without the latter being concerned about their authenticity.

With certifications being stored on a blockchain, students can obtain fast and easy access to their records and can share them with potential employers without the latter being concerned about their authenticity.

Moreover, in case a university closes down or the credential records are destroyed due to extraordinary circumstances (fire, earthquake, war, etc.), student’s certifications still hold merit and would be verifiable based on blockchain records.

In 2017, MIT introduced a pilot program under which it offered digital diplomas to 111 graduates in addition to the traditional diplomas. These graduates were given an option to receive their diplomas on their smartphones via an app, called the Blockcerts Wallets. The pilot project, which was a partnership between MIT and Massachusetts-based software firm, Learning Machine, enabled students to quickly and easily share a verifiable and tamper-proof version of their diploma with prospective employers, other schools, as well as friends and family.

Apart from MIT, several other institutions offer digital credentials through blockchain. For instance, Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute (KMI) was awarded about US$550,000 (GBP 450,000) in 2018, to develop and employ blockchain technology to allow learners to manage and verify their educational and employment records.

Copyright and plagiarism

Plagiarism is a big issue in the academic world, with people having easy access to other people’s research or educational resources for free over the Internet. However, the use of blockchain can effectively address this problem. One of blockchain’s key characteristic is that information can be securely stored without being tampered with. Thus, academic materials stored in a blockchain-based platform can be accessed by public but cannot be altered or plagiarized. Moreover, any contention regarding originality of information can be tracked and protected with a time stamp.

One of blockchain’s key characteristic is that information can be securely stored without being tampered with. Thus, academic materials stored in a blockchain-based platform can be accessed by public but cannot be altered or plagiarized. Moreover, any contention regarding originality of information can be tracked and protected with a time stamp.

This also helps publishers keep track of reuse of their material and be rewarded based on actual use and reuse of their papers (similar to how they are rewarded for citations of their research material), thereby eliminating any free-use of their materials on the Internet.

Taking things a step further, teachers or publishers could be awarded crypto-coins for the reuse of their material through smart contracts. This way publishers would not have to use intermediaries such as research journals, which charge high fees and thereby limit access to the material.

Creation of decentralized education marketplaces

Education industry still operates in a closed and centralized way with universities and education providers giving credentials for courses through their own diplomas and degrees. Even in case of digital education solutions, there is always a body providing credentials for the course undertaken. Due to this, education remains relatively expensive and not approachable by all.

However, blockchain-based platforms can help solve this problem by creating decentralized education marketplaces, where the quality of education provided is validated by students and educators participating in the course. Using blockchain, these marketplaces connect students and professors who in turn use smart contacts to undertake the course they are interested in. At the end of the course the student receives an immutable certificate of completion and the ledger records the professor who taught the course.

An example of such a company is Switzerland-based ODEM, which was founded in 2017. ODEM is a blockchain-based decentralized marketplace for educational products and services, wherein professors and students come together to teach and learn various courses. The two parties engage through smart contracts and the ODEM ledger recognizes the courses a student has taken or a professor has taught, which boosts their reputation on the ODEM platform. Moreover, ODEM creates ‘skill badges’ for professors and students who complete courses in their network. This helps the decentralized platform as more students wish to undertake courses with professors who have multiple skill badges (thereby higher proficiency in the subject), while professors are also more interested to work with students with multiple badges (i.e. have displayed interest to learn and expand their skill set in the subject).

Several other blockchain-based education marketplaces have emerged. In February 2018, a blockchain-based university, called Woolf University was founded, which allowed any accredited educator to launch and teach courses that would advance users toward a degree.

Blockchain Scores Well in the Education Sector by EOS Intelligence

Other solutions

In addition to this, blockchain increasingly finds application in other educational areas across the globe. In Kazakhstan, the government is using blockchain to manage the national school enrollment of young children to kindergarten. In Kazakhstan, all parents need to apply for their children’s enrollment in local kindergartens, which results in waiting lists for several such institutions, and these lists are managed by the state. In February 2019, the government decentralized the system and put it on a blockchain in order to optimize the waiting list and make the process more transparent.

Similarly, blockchain is also being used for test prepping and learning. Blockchain-based platforms can assist students in preparing for tests as this helps students keep track of their progress. One such example is a chatbot app by Opet Foundation, wherein students can ask questions regarding any subject, the app recommends resources for further studies based on current proficiency, and tracks learning progress through blockchain technology.

Blockchain is also being applied to improve and expand school library systems. With blockchain, schools can create and manage a distributed metadata system for libraries that would allow peer-to-peer sharing of books and other reading material. Also, it will assist in management of libraries as the technology keeps detailed logs of what books are going out and which ones are being returned in an error-free and meticulous fashion. In November 2017, the Institute of Museum and Library Services gave a US$100,000 grant to the San José State University, School of Information to explore blockchain applications in libraries encompassing building an enhanced permission-less metadata archive, supporting community-based collections, and facilitating better digital rights management.

EOS Perspective

Blockchain-based applications are gaining momentum across industries and the education sector is no exception. As in many other sectors, blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the industry, especially with regards to storing data and sharing credentials. Several start-ups have entered this space and are already challenging industry norms.

More so, blockchain-based start-ups in the education sector are becoming even more relevant as the world struggles with calamities such as bush fires or the coronavirus pandemic. As schools and universities shut down due to the ongoing pandemic, blockchain-based platforms play an important role in ensuring that education is not disrupted. Recently, blockchain-based educational platform, Odem, has offered its online integrated learning platform and certification management system free of charge to schools and educators that have shut down due to the virus scare. In the midst of the pandemic, the platform has received interest from Italy, Ireland, Germany, Cairo, and the USA, with a US-based University discussing uploading about 500 courses onto the Odem blockchain to combat class time lost due to the outbreak.

While blockchain appears to be in a strong position to reinvent the education sector, it is easier said than done. Blockchain requires alterations in industry-wide business processes, which not only require significant amount of investments but also involvement of government bodies to develop blockchain regulations as well as build the requisite infrastructure for the technology. Currently the cost of processing and storing data through blockchain is high and scalability remains an issue.

Moreover, currently most schools across the globe have their own systems to store and manage student’s information, progress, and certifications. These would require to be standardized if the use of blockchain grows and new standards would need to be developed. This is an extremely tedious and time consuming procedure and several schools may not be interested in sharing information with third parties.

That being said, blockchain is expected to penetrate the education sector in the years to come and many institutions have already started toying with the technology and its applications. However, just like in case of some other industries, it is yet to be seen if blockchain manages to revolutionize the entire industry or offer few niche applications in some areas and limited geographic scope. It will have a lot to do with the cost and ease of adaptation of the technology in already exiting school systems.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Moving Towards 5G – Slowly but Surely

5G technology started to become a buzzword around 2017, when it was still in a nascent stage of development, to say the least. Over the past two years, 5G has evolved from pilot testing phase to small-scale implementation. However, 5G full-scale deployment is yet to be seen and there are still many challenges to overcome. 5G is here, but it is still a long way before it becomes mainstream.

Developing 5G infrastructure is a costly affair

5G uses high frequencies and short wavelength to deliver faster speed and lower latency. Short wavelength requires shorter distance between the tower and the device, since the signal cannot penetrate buildings, trees, or other such obstacles. Therefore, telecom operators need to build 5G small-cell towers very close to the end-users, which is time consuming and expensive.

The high cost of investment is seen as a major pain point by majority of the telecom operators. A report released by a UK-based capital finance firm Greensill in February 2019 indicated that the investment in global 5G telecom infrastructure will reach US$1 trillion by 2020.

Network sharing is increasingly seen as a rational approach to reduce the individual cost of investment. In February 2018, McKinsey estimated that if three players share the 5G network, the individual costs can be reduced by 50%. However, setting up a collaboration with other telecom operators to share networks is a complex and time-consuming process. On an average, it takes about six to nine months to finalize a network sharing agreement. Each telecom operator will need to ink many such network sharing contracts to achieve wide-spread coverage of their services.

Despite the hype, demand for 5G is currently rather moderate

Despite all the promises of high-speed and uninterrupted internet connectivity, 5G is not seen as an immediate necessity. This is because the existing technology, 4G LTE, is able to fulfill most of the current consumer needs. The average 4G LTE data speed globally is estimated at around 17Mbps. Thus, 4G LTE provides sufficient speed for some of the most common mobile applications such as music streaming (~1Mbps), 1080p HD video (~5Mbps), and even online games such as Fortnite (~3Mbps).

As per a study conducted by PWC in September 2018, only about a third of 1,000 home and mobile internet users surveyed in the USA were willing to pay a premium for 5G, provided 5G delivers speed and low latency as claimed by the telecom operators. Moreover, survey finds that, for 5G internet service, home internet users were willing to pay a marginal amount of US$5.06 on average as monthly premium in addition to their current spending on 4G. Mobile internet users were willing to spend even less, a monthly premium of US$4.40 on average. To compare, a US-based telecom operator Verizon offers unlimited 4G data and calls for US$65 per month.

Moreover, most of the 4G devices do not support 5G networks, thus require consumers to spend additionally on 5G-compatible devices. This additional cost factor is also expected to act as a deterrent for mass adoption of 5G in the near term. Another survey (conducted by PWC in May 2019) of 800 internet users in the USA found that if a new device was required to access 5G, 70% of the respondents would not be willing to buy a new 5G-compatible device as soon as it was available, rather wait until they were eligible for an upgrade.

Thus, the marketing hype created around 5G have got consumers intrigued about the technology, however, they are not open to spending generously on the 5G experience.

Net neutrality law dampens motivation to invest in 5G

5G would enable network slicing allowing telecom operators to dedicate a portion or slice of their 5G network with certain functionality such as connectivity, speed, or capacity. In other words, network slicing creates various networks that share the same physical infrastructure without impacting other network functionalities.

For instance, in automated cars, one slice could be used for watching Netflix and other could be used for exchanging reliable information with other cars to avoid any road accidents. Network slicing is a real opportunity for telecom operators to optimize their 5G networks to address different needs of specific application areas.

Furthermore, differentiated services provided with each network slice using the same physical infrastructure are likely to increase revenue potential for telecom operators. A research study conducted by Ericsson in 2018 concluded that telecom operators can generate up to 35% more in revenue using network slicing (the study assumed a 5G mobile broadband had 25 million subscribers with 40 unique services launched per year over the period of five years).

However, the net neutrality regulation adopted by many countries across the world does not permit the use of network slicing technique. Net neutrality laws are in effect in the EU since 2016. In North America, Canada has net neutrality regulation in place, but in the USA the status of the law is under review. Most countries in South America have national laws to protect net neutrality. In Asia, Japan, South Korea, and India are among the few countries with net neutrality regulation. Africa, in particular, is lagging behind other regions in developing concrete framework to protect net neutrality.

The net neutrality law dictates telecom operators to treat all internet communications equally and prohibits them to charge differently for different internet services. Net neutrality law does not allow the telecom operators to use network slicing technique to create distinguished service offerings by blocking any part of bandwidth for a particular application or user group.

Telecom operators argue that this impacts the roll out of mission-critical and emergency services such as remote surgery which needs to be given priority over other applications. With net neutrality in the picture, telecom operators would not be able to benefit from the key feature of 5G technology, network slicing. This may hinder the overall 5G development.

As telecom operators voice their concerns, regulators across the world are reviewing net neutrality laws. EU opened consultations with industry stakeholders as telecom operators in the region propose 5G to be classified as a specialized service which is exempted from net neutrality laws.

In the USA, the status of net neutrality law (introduced in 2015) remains unclear. In June 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality regulation, however the decision was opposed by 22 states. State legislators have challenged the FCC decision in the US Court of Appeals and proposed to authorize the state-level legislations to re-instate net neutrality laws. In the 2019 legislative session, 29 states introduced laws to protect net neutrality at state level.

5G to multiply data privacy and security risks

5G does not drastically change the risk factors similar to those in the existing communication technologies (i.e. 2G, 3G, and 4G), however, it is going to dramatically increase the potential points of cyberattacks. This is due to the fact that the advent of 5G is expected to result in exponential increase in the number of connected devices and associated network data traffic, which will significantly expand the number and scale of cyber vulnerabilities.

A study (released in May 2019 by Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network, a professional networking organization) based on a global survey of 145 telecom industry professionals, indicated that 94% of respondents believed that 5G will increase security and reliability concerns.

Another survey conducted in June 2019 by Cradlepoint, a cloud-based networking solutions provider, indicated that 73% of the 200 respondents (working with telecom operators) acknowledged that security concerns might delay the 5G adoption.


Explore our other Perspectives on 5G


Industry is turning to standardization and regulatory bodies for guidance on minimizing security threats associated with 5G. But existing standards do not fully address the data privacy and security concerns.

For instance, the existing 5G standard employs Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA) protocol which is a mutually authenticating system between the user device and 5G network. However, in late 2018, it was discovered that the 5G AKA has at least two vulnerabilities that could compromise users’ data privacy and security. Firstly, it allows interception of the communication between two users, enabling cyber spies to steal personal information or corrupt data. Further, the vulnerability in 5G AKA protocol could allow cyber criminals to bill the phone call or other charges to legitimate users.

5G standards are still under development and will take some time to come into effect. Since 5G is a new technology, many data privacy and security threats still remain unidentified. In anticipation of potential security flaws, telecom operators may adopt a wait-and-see approach before moving to wide-scale commercial deployment of 5G.

5G draws criticism over possible health concerns

It is believed that prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation from 5G networks can be harmful to human health. In 2011, cellular radiation was classified as a possible carcinogen by World Health Organization. 5G radiation is also claimed to be linked to premature aging, disruption of cell metabolism, as well as neurological disorders. However, there is little evidence to understand the actual extent of the harm caused, and therefore many countries are not giving this issue due attention.

However, rising health concerns are not going unnoticed. In September 2017, 180 medical professionals and scientists from 36 countries recommended the European Commission to postpone the deployment of the 5G network until the potential risks for human health and environment are thoroughly investigated and proven. In response, the European Commission indicated that the member states are responsible for protecting their citizens from harmful effect of electromagnetic radiation and they can introduce choice of measures based on the demographics. This means that, in the future, if the presumed adverse effect of 5G radiation on human health is proven to be true, countries can impose protectionary measures which would limit the development of 5G.

Some countries have already taken a cautious approach to 5G deployment in view of potential health risks. An example of this could be Belgium stopping a 5G test in Brussels in April 2019 due to difficulty in measuring electromagnetic radiation emissions. Around the same time, Swiss government also announced plans to introduce radiation monitoring systems to continually assess health risks posed by 5G radiation. Earlier in September 2018, Mill Valley, a city in San Francisco, USA, banned deployment of small-cell 5G towers in the city’s residential areas.

Thus, growing concerns over impact of 5G on human health is expected to further delay the 5G development and adoption.

Moving Towards 5G – Slowly but Surely nu EOS Intelligence

1) According to McKinsey estimates (February 2018) based on the assumption that three players share the 5G network
2) Based on survey of 1,000 home and mobile internet users in the USA conducted in September 2018 by PWC
3) Based on survey of 800 home and mobile internet users in the USA conducted in May 2019 by PWC
4) As per Ericsson 2018 study, assuming a 5G mobile broadband having 25 million subscribers with 40 unique services launched per year over the period of five years
5) According to May 2019 study by Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network
6) Based on a survey conducted by Cradlepoint in June 2019

EOS Perspective

While the 5G technology era has arrived, wide-scale commercial deployment is moving slowly amidst challenges it is facing. Cradlepoint study indicated that 46% of the 200 telecom industry professionals surveyed in June 2019 had made little or no preparations for 5G deployment.

4G (introduced in 2009) accounted for 43% of the total mobile subscriptions globally by the end of 2018. Even after a decade, there are still many regions where people do not have access to 4G.

Transitioning from existing communication technologies to 5G is more complex, costly, and time-consuming. Hence, 5G is years away from full-scale commercial deployment. GSMA, an industry association with over 750 telecom operators as members, predicts that while 4G will continue to grow to reach 60% of the global mobile subscriptions in 2025, 5G will account for just 15% of the market by then.

5G has been in the news for some time now and it is marketed as the future of communication and internet technology. 5G has gone through many upgrades and is deemed ready for commercial deployment, at least on a small scale. Many leading telecom operators today are preparing for the rollout of 5G networks while uncovering new challenges in the process.

The road to 5G might be longer than expected, given the challenges on the way. TBR, a technology research firm, expects that only few trailblazers would have attempted to deploy 5G by the end of 2019. Majority of telecom operators will deploy 5G between 2020 and 2026. Laggards will follow them and continue with 5G deployment till 2030.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Media Players Push the Envelope to Sway in on Streaming Arena

The emergence of online entertainment has led to consumers transitioning from a fixed time-based entertainment on TV to on-demand watching across a wide array of devices. Continuously shifting viewing preferences will further expand digital mode of entertainment thus intensifying the competition between online streaming services and other entertainment providers. This will likely set the tone of how traditional entertainment players refurbish their business objectives and modify their operational models to acquire and retain consumers in the times ahead.

Online video streaming soars, both in subscribers and revenue

In early 2000’s if one wished to watch a movie at home, it meant day(s) of wait before the DVD arrived at the doorstep via mail. However, in 2007, when Netflix launched its online video streaming service, it started a new wave in the entertainment world – the ability to enjoy your favorite movie at the click of a button without having to wait for it to be delivered. This marriage of content and digital technology gave consumers an exciting experience of viewing content in a new way. Since then, video streaming has come a long way and now is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2018, the video streaming industry was valued at US$ 36.64 billion and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 19.6% between 2019 and 2025, reaching a value of US$ 124.57 billion by 2025.

A surge in the number of devices supporting digital media, increasing internet speed, and the ease to access content (be it information, entertainment, or social) anytime, anywhere is driving the growth of online content.

As the demand for digital on-demand content is growing, consumers are spending more on subscription video on demand (SVOD) such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, making it the most commonly used video service in the over-the-top (OTT) content (content delivered via internet) market – in 2018, of the total global OTT revenue of US$ 67.8 billion, SVOD generated nearly 53% of the revenue standing at US$ 36 billion. SVOD revenue is estimated to reach US$ 87 billion by 2024.

According to global information provider, IHS Markit, the number of global subscribers to online video services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime increased by 27% in 2018 and reached 613.3 million subscribers, an increase of 131.2 million in comparison to 2017. The top three online streaming players account for 45% of this share – Netflix with 155 million subscribers (148 million paid users, with another 7 million using trial accounts), Amazon Prime with 100 million subscribers, and Hulu with 28 million subscribers (26.8 million paid users, with an additional 1.3 million using promotional accounts), totaling to 283 million subscribers.

Media Players Push the Envelope to Sway in on Streaming Arena by EOS Intelligence

Cable TV bearing the brunt

Online video subscriptions (613.3 million) surpassed cable subscriptions (that stood at 556 million, a 2% decrease from 567 million in 2017) for the first time in 2018. However, the online subscription video platforms generated nearly three times less revenue than cable TV, mainly due to low subscription rates. These affordable rates coupled with the flexibility to watch any program at any convenient time has resulted in a drop in the viewership of the television network.

Cable and satellite providers, to some extent, are taking a beating from online streaming as consumers are abandoning traditional cable for streaming services. In the USA, consumers spend US$ 23.3 billion annually on home entertainment, of this 75% (US$ 17.5 billion) is spent on digital entertainment, which depicts the fact that people are spending more on online subscriptions than on the cable TV. This implies that consumers prefer viewing content online than on cable TV, which is further reinforced by the low subscription rates for online services. As a consequence, in 2018, two of the largest direct broadcast satellite service providers in the USA, AT&T-owned DirecTV and Dish Network Corporation’s DishTV, reported losing 1.24 million and 1.13 million subscribers, respectively.

Consumers prefer viewing content online than on cable TV, which is further reinforced by the low subscription rates for online services.

While both players lost a huge number of viewers of the cable television services, during the same year, they were also the largest aggregators through their streaming cable services, namely, DirectTV Now (owned by AT&T) and Sling TV (owned by Dish), which added 436,000 and 205,000 new subscribers each. This shift denotes a change in the way people consume content, choosing a plan that is cable-like but shifting to streaming services at low price point making budgetary cuts while still enjoying favorite programs.

For providers that offer both pay-tv and online subscription as part of their service portfolio, staying afloat in this competitive arena is easier since consumers can shift from one package to another (according to changes in their financial capabilities) and the company does not end up losing customers.

However, for traditional cable companies, the situation is more difficult than expected. In 2018, the top six cable companies in the USA (Comcast, Charter, Cox, Altice, Mediacom, and Cable One) lost a combined 910,000 TV subscribers in comparison to 660,000 subscribers lost in 2017 (38% more in a year). Large cable telecommunications companies such as Comcast and Charter are still in a better position to deal with the situation owing to various business verticals and strong financial records. It is the small players operating in limited territories who are in a muddle – they need to look for alternative ways (other than offering cable TV services, subscribers for which are drastically reducing) to keep their businesses afloat.

Other than losing customers, they are also challenged by the increasing negotiations with programmers (for distributing content via cable) who now have the alternative to broadcast their content via online partners, eliminating the need of cable middleman.

However, unlike in the USA, where the online streaming market is pretty much advanced, in other less developed parts of the world, the development of online streaming platforms is still in its infancy. In the immediate future, it is expected that the streaming services will not be able to cause major impact on traditional video platforms in these geographies, as the adoption of video streaming will be restricted mainly by slow internet connectivity, unlike in the USA, where 5G services are on the brink of being launched.

Constantly evolving entertainment landscape, not without challenges

Online streaming is disrupting the traditional mode of video entertainment challenging the domination of TV as the main entertainment hub. Ascent of digital media players such as Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube, is posing major challenges for other players such as content production studios, cable companies, and media networks thus compelling them to develop new business models and adapt to compete with online streaming players.

To catch up with the changing dynamics of the industry, players from all verticals (including media houses, internet providers, telecom companies, distributors, etc.) in the entertainment industry are revising their business choices and strategically launching new product and services.

Media companies are reformulating their business models by including exclusive streaming services into their overall product and service portfolio. For instance, Disney, US-based mass media and entertainment company, is planning to launch its suite of direct-to-consumer (DTC) services in 2019 starting with Disney+ (to be launched in the USA in November, 2019, followed by launch in Asia and Europe in 2020 and 2021, respectively) focusing on delivering original productions, with all content available for offline viewing. It is estimated that Disney+ is likely to attract up to 90 million subscribers by 2024, nearly more than two times of what Netflix accomplished in five years.

In another example, Comcast-owned mass media house, NBCUniversal, announced the launch of its ad-supported streaming service in April 2020. The service will be free if viewers watch TV through a paid provider with NBCU access (including Comcast and Sky) but one can opt for subscription service to eliminate ads. To start with, the service will focus on licensed content with some original programming.

Recently acquired Time Warner, now named WarnerMedia (acquired by AT&T), also plans to launch its streaming service by the end of 2019 with three tiers of options – an entry-level package focused on movies, premium service with original programming and blockbuster movies, and third option that offers content from the first two packages plus an extensive library of WarnerMedia and licensed content.

With more and more players venturing into the streaming territory and offering new and fresh content, the competition is only going to get harder for Netflix and the likes of it. Players who lack in offering content volume-wise, even though successful in launching their streaming services, will find it difficult to survive, in the medium term, especially when offering premium subscriptions.

Players who lack in offering content volume-wise, even though successful in launching their streaming services, will find it difficult to survive, especially when offering premium subscriptions.

Other than media companies, pure-play cable operators are also feeling the heat of the ever-changing entertainment landscape. As the majority of viewers receiving at-home-video services through means other than traditional cable subscription increases, cable TV players are left with no choice but to look for alternative ways to engage with the market. Increasing demand for broadband services is a saving grace for cable operators in this situation. For example, cable provider, Comcast, is becoming more broadband-centric than cable-centric and shifting its focus to high-speed internet services since customers have started dumping high-priced TV services for cheaper streaming services. The company, in March 2019, launched a streaming platform, Xfinity Flex, targeted at broadband internet services customers (who do not use the company’s cable services). The service offers customers set-top streaming box that includes Netflix, Prime Video, HBO, and other apps, and voice control to manage all of the connected devices in their homes.

However, for cable operators, the situation will only worsen in the future. High-speed internet access market, currently dominated by cable operators, will soon be challenged by the rollout of 5G wireless technology by telecom companies such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, among others. The implementation of 5G services will be a whole new ballgame, highly likely to transform the online viewing experience, and it will be interesting to see how exactly this space will be changed.

New entrants challenging the players

If the TV content and service providers were already not in deep waters due to the rise of online streaming, entry of retail and media players into the entertainment sector has not made the situation any better. Though these entrants are most likely going to be a direct competition for the video streaming players rather than the traditional ones, it cannot be denied that this may be a potential threat to the entire entertainment industry.

In May 2019, retail chain, Walmart, that bought Vudu, content delivery and media technology company in 2010, launched a video service offering more than 8,000 movies and TV shows for viewers to watch for free (with ads), as well as a library of more than 150,000 movies and TV titles that people can purchase or rent. The company dropped its initial plans to launch Vudu as a streaming service (competing with Netflix) citing huge investment requirement and lack of experience in producing original content as the reasons. However, the idea was not off the table for too long, as the company announced a list of original content programs including reviving an old movie to be delivered in 11-minute installments, a travel show, an entertainment series, and a crime thriller. Vudu is currently focused on developing content that costs much less than other top video streaming service providers spend on original content, which costs them billions of dollars; the future vision takes the path of reaching the front of the pack slowly and steadily.

In another example from 2018, Snapchat, a multimedia messaging app, launched Snap Originals, offering premium content (with episodes lasting for about five minutes) created exclusively for Snapchat’s users to be viewed on their mobiles. The content includes a range of genres including drama, comedy, documentary, etc., and is developed in partnership with film and television writers and producers.

EOS Perspective

The amount of money viewers spent globally on entertainment reached US$ 55.7 million in 2018, an increase of approximately 16% in comparison to 2017 (US$ 48.1 million). Between 2014 and 2018, consumers’ entertainment spending increased nearly 1.5 times driven by increased expenditure on digital entertainment (including electronic sell-through, video-on-demand, and paid subscriptions). The digital entertainment spending in 2018 was US$ 42.6 million in comparison to US$ 15.7 million in 2014, an increase of 171%, exhibiting a giant move towards digital viewing.

There has been a plethora of cases where TV players have either launched new ideas and concepts or joined hands with other players (in the same realm or similar playfield) to have a foothold in the otherwise challenging entertainment industry. With more and more options congesting the already tight, but diverse streaming video topography, it is most likely going to present increasing competition for traditional television. This, topped with dropping numbers of television viewers globally, only adds to the inevitable nostalgic observation that television may become obsolete, if not dead, in the next five to six decades.

Developing content and building own platforms for streaming videos does not come cheap – players will have to invest billions of dollars in developing content whilst losing revenue by not selling distribution rights to third-party networks and distributors. This stands true for content creators such as Disney and WarnerMedia, who are likely to gradually withdraw their content from online streaming platforms to be broadcasted on their own networks. For instance, Disney will bear an estimated loss of US$ 300 million in annual revenues it currently gets from Netflix for pay-tv rights to its theatrical releases. Thus, it is clear that shifting to a newer streaming business model will not only be costlier but also riskier since it would be difficult to ascertain beforehand how well the content will be accepted by the viewers. Nonetheless, in the current scenario, where there is always demand for more content, players hardly have any other alternative to explore.

The outlook for video entertainment, in the short to medium term, looks promising with coalition among various operators’ in reshaping the video media scene. It can be expected that potential partnerships, particularly among content creators and service (internet and mobile network) providers, if done right, could be a tough nut to crack for pure-play online streaming operators.

Potential partnerships, particularly among content creators and service (internet and mobile network) providers, if done right, could be a tough nut to crack for pure-play online streaming operators.

Nevertheless, given the low-price point and round the clock content availability, it can be anticipated that online streaming business will continue to see significant growth in the years to come. For other players, it is important to understand that while their direct audience is shifting, it is not vanishing – just that viewers are watching the content via different modes. Thus, in the long haul, it will be necessary for players to offer a combination of traditional TV packages along with online streaming plans and become a one-stop-shop for content to retain old customers and signing up new subscribers. However, for the businesses, the challenge lies in knowing what offerings to create and whom to partner with, all while retaining customers and generating revenue in the constantly evolving entertainment topography.

Looking at the current scenario, it is apparent that digital platform players will further continue to disrupt (and redefine) the TV and video market in the future. To survive, industry-wide alliances in the form of joint production, partnerships, and mergers are an obvious choice to make. However, in their desperate attempt to stay ahead, it can be expected that companies will try to come up with innovative solutions, something that is neither exactly a cable TV offering nor a video that can be streamed online, but an experience that enthralls the viewers and keeps them hooked to the device of their choice.

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