What is DePIN (Decentralised Physical Infrastructure Networks) in Crypto?

What is DePIN (Decentralised Physical Infrastructure Networks) in Crypto?

DePIN involves integrating real-world infrastructure, such as wireless networks, with a blockchain-powered system. Venture capitalists are highly interested, though the customer base remains small.

Billions of dollars have been invested by venture capitalists into the DePIN sector, with some funds entirely devoted to DePIN protocols. Despite a market cap in the tens of billions, the sector still faces a common crypto challenge: a limited number of users.

Analysts believe that DePIN projects with the most promise are those where there's a clear demand for the service, indicating existing customer interest. Unlike much of the cryptocurrency sector, which deals with abstract concepts like data transactions on blockchains and fluctuating price charts, DePIN projects aim for tangible real-world applications. Examples include the Helium protocol, which supports a wireless network through a token-based ecosystem, and Filecoin's data storage platform.

The term 'decentralized physical infrastructure networks' or DePIN has garnered significant investment, signaling strong belief in its potential from venture capital firms. According to a report by Crypto.com, top DePIN projects have collectively raised over $1 billion.

"We see DePIN as a category capable of producing a breakthrough application that could attract a billion users", said Pranav Kanade, a portfolio manager at VanEck's digital assets alpha fund, in an interview. "These users would engage with public blockchains, likely without knowing they're using a cryptocurrency product".

Despite clear interest from venture capitalists, the challenge for DePIN remains its small customer base.

The collective value of DePIN projects is in the billions, yet their annual revenue is around $15 million, according to Rob Hadick, a general partner at Dragonfly, a crypto venture capital fund. "The issue isn't supply but rather the lack of demand", he noted.

Nevertheless, DePIN is rapidly becoming a popular term in the crypto vocabulary.

What is DePIN?

DePIN, short for Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks, represents a transformative approach in the realm of blockchain technology, merging it with real-world infrastructure to decentralize and democratize access to services traditionally controlled by large corporations. This sector utilizes token-based reward systems to encourage public participation in the management and expansion of various infrastructures, ranging from wireless connectivity and transportation to data storage and computing power.

Historically, infrastructure services such as wireless networks have been centrally controlled by major companies like AT&T and Deutsche Telekom, where customers pay a fee for usage with limited influence over the network. In contrast, DePIN projects like Helium offer a decentralized model where individuals can set up hotspots in their local area and earn tokens—specifically HNT tokens in Helium’s case—for contributing to the network's expansion and efficiency.

As of recent reports by Crypto.com and CoinGecko, the market capitalization for DePIN tokens has soared past $25 billion, a testament to the growing investor interest predominantly from institutional backers and venture capitalists rather than retail investors. This burgeoning sector, while still in its nascent stages, has seen significant involvement from large-scale investors, making it a potential goldmine for those looking to diversify their portfolios with DePIN-related tokens, despite the current challenge of their limited availability on mainstream, retail-friendly exchanges.

Notable projects such as IoTEX, Hivemapper, Natix, and yet-to-be-launched platforms like io.net are at the forefront of integrating blockchain technology with physical infrastructural services. These projects are not just reshaping how infrastructure is managed but are also providing more lucrative and flexible reward systems compared to traditional centralized models. For instance, ride-sharing platforms like Uber operate on a central system where drivers provide resources and services for fiat-based rewards, maintaining a tight control over the resources. In contrast, DePIN projects offer a more decentralized and rewarding framework for individuals to contribute to infrastructure services.

The concept of DePIN is rapidly maturing and is set to revolutionize the way physical infrastructure is built and managed, promising a future where decentralized networks can offer more equitable and efficient solutions compared to their centralized counterparts. This shift highlights a significant movement towards leveraging community resources in a decentralized ecosystem, heralding a new era of infrastructure management that could potentially disrupt various service-based sectors.

Decentralised Physical Infrastructure Network In Crypto

Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePINs) represent a groundbreaking shift in how physical infrastructure services are managed and delivered, leveraging the decentralized nature of blockchain technology. This concept enables a peer-to-peer (P2P) ecosystem where individuals contribute various physical infrastructure resources such as data storage, wireless connectivity, energy grids, and even environmental data like noise levels.

The essence of DePIN lies in its ability to democratize access to infrastructure services, traditionally dominated by large corporations or centralized systems. By using a public blockchain ledger, DePINs not only record every transaction and service provided but also manage administrative functions and remittance through this decentralized system. This approach ensures transparency, as every action is publicly verifiable, and facilitates a permissionless environment where anyone with the necessary resources can participate as a service provider.

One of the unique applications of DePIN is found in diverse fields such as geographical services, where users contribute local data in exchange for cryptocurrency rewards. For example, the Silencio Network allows users to measure local noise pollution through an app, contributing valuable environmental data while earning tokens. Similarly, the ELOOP Network has revolutionized car-sharing services in Vienna by using tokenization to manage a fleet of shared Teslas, demonstrating how DePIN can transform even high-cost infrastructure projects.

DePINs are particularly attractive due to their ability to lower the barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs. Traditional infrastructure projects often require significant capital and are controlled by a few large entities. In contrast, DePINs allow for a more distributed ownership and management model, where the collective contribution of network participants can sustain and grow the infrastructure without massive individual investment.

Moreover, as more individuals and entities participate in these decentralized networks, the value and utility of the network increase, creating a positive feedback loop that enhances the network's attractiveness and encourages further participation. This network effect is pivotal, as it drives the expansion and enhances the overall value of the DePIN infrastructure.

In summary, DePINs utilize blockchain technology to transform the way physical infrastructure services are provided and managed, offering a more inclusive, transparent, and efficient alternative to traditional centralized models. This shift not only promotes greater community involvement and reward distribution but also sets the stage for innovative applications of decentralized networks in everyday life and industry.

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Solana's Role in DePINs

Several decentralized computing networks, such as Render, io.net, and Nosana, which allow individuals to contribute computing resources for communal use, are developed on the Solana (SOL) blockchain. According to the Solana Foundation, about 20 DePIN projects currently utilize Solana's platform. Notably, Helium (HNT) transitioned from its original blockchain to Solana last year, citing greater reliability and stability on Solana, despite Solana’s past issues with outages, as detailed in Helium's blog posts.

Sean Farrell, head of digital asset strategy at FundStrat, explains that Solana’s architecture simplifies the process for many DePIN projects that would otherwise have to create their own high-throughput blockchain or operate on one with low adoption. “Solana’s emergence as a credible platform has effectively addressed these infrastructure challenges", he stated.

One of the distinct advantages of Solana over other primary blockchains like Ethereum (ETH) is its capability to handle a high volume of transactions at a relatively low cost, without the need to offload them to a more efficient secondary layer. Ethereum, known for its high transaction costs and slower speeds, has led to the development of several layer-2 solutions within its ecosystem. Conversely, Solana offers a more streamlined and cost-effective alternative.

Hivemapper, a decentralized mapping network that incentivizes contributors with its native token HONEY, also operates on Solana. Ariel Seidman, co-founder of Hivemapper, cites low transaction fees, user-friendliness, and the robustness of the ecosystem as key reasons for choosing Solana.

Farrell further notes that DePIN tokens on Solana are readily integrated into DeFi applications, unlike those on second-layer platforms that might require additional tools for interoperability with apps on the Ethereum mainnet or other secondary layers. He highlights Helium Mobile as an effective example of building a balanced network of supply and demand that was lacking in its previous blockchain. "This serves as a solid proof of concept for other projects aiming to build on this model", Farrell concluded.

How Does DePIN Work?

DePINs, or Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks, integrate blockchain technology with real-world physical infrastructures to revolutionize how services and resources are managed and distributed. This integration is characterized by several core components that make DePINs a transformative technology in connecting the digital and physical realms.

Physical Infrastructure: At the heart of DePINs are the physical assets like sensors, routers, solar panels, and networking equipment. These assets are usually owned and managed by private providers who may have possessed these facilities even before their integration into the DePIN ecosystem. These physical components are essential for the actual transmission of data, resources, or information within the network.

Middleware and Blockchain System: Middleware plays a crucial role by serving as the bridge between the physical infrastructure and the blockchain. It functions similarly to a decentralized oracle network (DON), collecting data from physical facilities and relaying it to the blockchain. This system ensures that activities from each facility are accurately captured and communicated to the blockchain, which then acts as both an administrator and a remittance system.

The blockchain architecture is fundamental to DePINs, using smart contracts to manage transactions, remittance, and reward distribution. It records all transactions on a public ledger, ensuring transparency and security. DePIN projects can either utilize their own bespoke blockchain or build upon an existing layer-1 blockchain that supports their needs. For example, peaq has gained popularity as a suitable platform for DePIN due to its friendly ecosystem and ready-made modular functions designed for these types of networks.

Off-Chain Network: The off-chain network component involves data transactions that occur outside the blockchain but are essential for the functioning of DePINs. This includes the acquisition of necessary resources like computing power, data storage, and connectivity, which are procured from external service providers.

Token Rewards: To incentivize participation and contribution to the network, DePINs reward participants with tokens. These tokens are not only a form of remuneration but also help in governing the network and enhancing the decentralized nature of the infrastructure.

By combining these elements, DePINs facilitate a decentralized network where multiple providers can contribute their physical infrastructure to a collective ecosystem. This setup not only reduces dependency on centralized systems but also democratizes access to resources, allowing for a more efficient distribution and utilization of infrastructure. The model of DePINs showcases a future where blockchain not only secures digital transactions but also plays a crucial role in managing and optimizing physical world operations.

Types Of Decentralised Physical Infrastructure Networks 

Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePINs) represent a cutting-edge blend of blockchain technology with physical and digital resources, categorized into two main types: Physical Resource Networks (PRNs) and Digital Resource Networks (DRNs). Each of these categories serves unique functions and caters to different needs within the decentralized ecosystem.

Physical Resource Networks (PRNs):
PRNs consist of location-based physical infrastructures where providers contribute hardware resources that are inherently localized and often immovable. These resources include connectivity equipment, mobility solutions, energy systems, and geospatial data collectors. The services provided by PRNs are typically tied to specific locations, making the resources non-fungible—meaning they cannot be replaced with identical items elsewhere due to their fixed nature and site-specific utility.

Digital Resource Networks (DRNs):
In contrast, DRNs comprise networks of digital resource providers who contribute fungible resources that are not bound by location. These include computing power, shared bandwidth, and storage facilities. DRNs allow for greater flexibility and scalability since the resources contributed can be pooled, shared, and utilized on a global scale, independent of physical location constraints.

Both PRNs and DRNs are crucial in expanding the interface between blockchain technology and real-world applications. By leveraging these networks, DePINs facilitate a more interconnected and decentralized management of resources. PRNs focus on optimizing and democratizing location-specific infrastructure services, thereby enhancing local ecosystems. Meanwhile, DRNs democratize access to digital resources, enabling a broader distribution of computing and storage capabilities across the globe.

Together, PRNs and DRNs are pushing the boundaries of how blockchain can integrate with various sectors of the economy, creating a more robust and efficient system for managing both physical and digital assets in a decentralized manner. This integration not only boosts efficiency but also promotes transparency and accessibility, making it easier for individuals and businesses to participate in and benefit from the burgeoning digital economy.

The DePIN Flywheel

The DePIN flywheel represents a dynamic, self-reinforcing cycle that accelerates as more participants contribute their resources to a decentralized network. This model is pivotal in transforming how physical infrastructures are leveraged and managed within the blockchain framework.

Initiating the Cycle:
Initially, providers are incentivized to integrate their often underutilized physical facilities into the DePIN network. This could include dormant assets that, once activated, enhance the network's capabilities. The principle is simple: incentivize participation with the promise of rewards, making it attractive for providers to repurpose their idle resources for greater utility and profit.

Network Expansion and Cost Efficiency:
As these resources are pooled and shared, the DePIN network gains strength and expands its reach. This growth allows the network to offer a broader array of services at costs significantly lower than those of traditional, corporate-controlled infrastructures. The competitive pricing draws more users to the platform, who contribute to the network's revenue through service fees.

Tokenomics and Incentivization:
The increase in user base and network activity boosts the demand and, consequently, the value of the network's native token. This appreciation in token value enhances the rewards for existing providers, serving as a stronger incentive for new participants to join and contribute. The result is a virtuous cycle: as more resources are contributed, the network's capacity to serve more users and offer more services increases.

Investment and Accelerated Growth:
This upward trajectory in network activity and token value catches the attention of investors. Attracted by the growing profitability and stability of the network, these investors provide funding and additional resources, which further fuels the expansion and efficiency of the network.

Sustaining the Flywheel:
The DePIN flywheel is thus characterized by its ability to self-perpetuate and scale. As the cycle continues, the network not only grows in size but also in efficiency, continually attracting more users, providers, and investors. This creates a robust, decentralized network that not only competes with but potentially surpasses traditional infrastructure systems in both scalability and cost-effectiveness.

In essence, the DePIN flywheel leverages the principles of decentralized blockchain technology to create a sustainable, expansive network of physical and digital resources that continuously enhances its value proposition to all stakeholders involved.

Benefits of Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePIN)

Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePINs) offer a range of benefits that transform the way infrastructure is developed, managed, and utilized. These benefits are derived from the unique attributes of blockchain technology combined with the principles of decentralization and crowd-sourcing.

Scalability and Flexibility:
DePINs allow for horizontal scalability, where networks can increase resources rather than the capacity of each individual resource. This model facilitates flexibility, enabling the network to scale up or down based on demand without significant shifts in structure. In high-demand scenarios, DePINs can activate dormant resources, increasing overall network capacity seamlessly. This capacity for infinite scaling, controlled by blockchain mechanisms, enables DePINs to respond dynamically to varying demand levels.

Decentralization and Community Control:
Similar to decentralized finance (DeFi) systems, DePINs shift control from centralized corporations to a collective of individual resource providers. This model distributes control across providers, akin to how miners operate in a Proof of Work (PoW) blockchain. In essence, DePINs function as industrial decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) where each participant's influence is proportionate to their contribution, promoting a nearly perfect decentralized ecosystem.

Cost Efficiency and Fair Pricing:
DePINs are inherently cost-efficient because the network itself incurs minimal operational costs. Providers have the flexibility to offer their facilities to multiple networks, enhancing service efficiency. The pricing models in DePINs reflect the actual costs incurred by providers, free from the excessive markups typical of centralized services. This leads to more affordable and fair pricing for users, as the costs are distributed across the network's participants without central overheads.

Permissionless Access:
DePINs operate on public blockchains, making them permissionless and accessible to anyone with the necessary resources. This open-access nature ensures that anyone can contribute to or benefit from DePIN services without facing barriers such as price negotiations or user screening. This inclusivity fosters a broader user base and a more robust, diverse network.

Incentivization and Economic Opportunities:
DePINs utilize incentivization as a key tool to encourage participation. Providers can earn passive or active income by contributing underutilized resources to the network, turning dormant assets into productive ones. For instance, projects like Nunet leverage AI to optimize the utilization of computing power, providing income opportunities for resource providers.

Borderless Expansion and Rapid Deployment:
Being decentralized and not bound by governmental controls, DePINs can quickly expand into new areas without bureaucratic delays. This borderless nature allows for rapid scalability across jurisdictions, further enhancing the network's growth and the swift deployment of services.

Self-Sustainability:
Through efficient resource allocation and the economic model of incentivization, DePIN networks can generate sufficient income to sustain and expand their infrastructure independently. This self-sustainability reduces reliance on external investment, making DePINs more resilient and capable of long-term operation.

In summary, DePINs leverage the decentralized, open, and flexible nature of blockchain technology to create scalable, efficient, and economically viable networks. These networks not only challenge traditional infrastructure models but also offer a more equitable and participatory framework for infrastructure development and management.

DePIN Risks and challenges

Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePINs) represent an innovative fusion of blockchain technology with physical infrastructure, but they face several challenges and risks that could impact their scalability and sustainability. These obstacles span from early-stage adoption issues to the inherent complexities of managing a decentralized network.

Adoption and Market Density Issues:
DePINs are still in their nascent stages, with only a limited number of blockchain enthusiasts and facility owners showing interest. The success of DePINs relies heavily on creating a robust network of users and providers to sustain the operational flywheel. Currently, the low density of participants poses a challenge in generating sufficient momentum for these networks. Overcoming this barrier requires not only time but also significant efforts in community building and user education to broaden understanding and participation.

Technical and Operational Complexities:
The concept of DePIN can be daunting due to its technical complexities. Prospective participants may find the barrier to entry high, deterring engagement. Additionally, the operational costs of maintaining private facilities can be substantial, potentially outweighing the benefits unless these networks can achieve a critical mass of active users and providers. This makes it essential for DePIN projects to invest in educational initiatives that simplify the technology for a broader audience and demonstrate the tangible benefits of participation.

Financial Viability and Profitability:
The economic model of DePINs hinges on the balance of token rewards and operational costs. Projects need to ensure that the rewards distributed are at least commensurate with the costs incurred by providers, making the system appealing and financially viable. However, the early stages of these projects often see limited user and provider engagement, which can result in inadequate token demand and reduced profitability. This is further complicated by the price volatility of tokens, which can deter ongoing participation if rewards are perceived as an unreliable source of income.

Risk Profile and Market Dynamics:
According to industry experts like Strahinja Savic and Brian Rudick, DePIN projects are positioned higher on the risk curve compared to more traditional crypto investments such as exchanges or mining infrastructures. The reliance on tokens with potentially unstable long-term value to incentivize the development of costly physical infrastructure introduces a high level of financial risk. Additionally, while DePIN projects can theoretically pass lower infrastructure costs onto customers to stimulate demand, the actual quality of services provided may fall short of those offered by established solutions that have been optimized over decades.

Strategic Approaches and Long-Term Viability:
DePIN projects that adopt a "build it and they will come" strategy often face challenges in scaling because of speculative demand and an ever-inflating token supply. On the other hand, projects that identify and tap into existing demand for specific services have a better chance of success. These projects are more likely to establish an economic moat and achieve a sustainable balance between token supply and demand early in their lifecycle.

In conclusion, while DePINs hold significant potential to revolutionize physical infrastructure through blockchain technology, the path to widespread adoption and success is fraught with challenges. Addressing these requires strategic planning, robust economic models, and ongoing community engagement to ensure that DePINs can compete effectively with legacy centralized systems and create a new paradigm for infrastructure management.

Security of DePINs 

As DePINs continue to gain traction and support, it is crucial to prioritize security within these protocols to ensure the safety and integrity of the network.

Enhancing Protocol Security:

  • Data Encryption: DePIN protocols can adopt robust encryption methods to secure data transmissions across the network, preventing unauthorized access and data breaches.
  • Blockchain Utilization: By leveraging blockchain technology, DePINs can enhance data immutability, protecting the integrity of the network and ensuring transparency in transactions and data management.
  • Smart Contract Audits: Conducting regular audits of smart contracts can identify and address vulnerabilities, mitigating potential security threats before they can be exploited.

Recommendations for Users:

  • Vigilance Against Social Engineering: Users should be wary of unsolicited communications such as emails, messages, or calls that request sensitive information or prompt transaction approvals. Always verify the authenticity of such requests.
  • Strong Authentication Practices: Employ strong, unique passwords for different accounts and enable multi-factor authentication wherever possible to enhance account security.
  • Reporting Suspicious Activities: Users should promptly report any unusual or suspicious activities they encounter. Prompt reporting can help address potential security issues early.
  • Staying Informed: Joining official community platforms for any DePIN project you are involved in can keep you updated on the latest security practices and alert you to any known issues.

By implementing these security measures and encouraging vigilant practices among users, DePINs can create a safer environment for all participants and foster trust in decentralized physical infrastructure networks.

Venture Capital Interest in DePIN Projects

DePIN projects have garnered considerable attention from venture capital (VC) funds, highlighting their potential in the tech and crypto space. For example, Borderless Capital has been actively investing in DePIN initiatives since 2021 and was one of the early supporters of the Helium network. The firm operates a dedicated DePIN fund, which has made over 30 investments and attracted financing from prominent entities such as Jump, Telefónica, and OKX.

Borderless Capital's investment strategy acknowledges that the adoption and usage of these networks, including Helium, are still in their infancy. The firm is currently setting up the $100 million DePIN Fund III, aiming to bolster the expanding DePIN ecosystems on the Solana blockchain. "The intersection of Crypto+AI, mobility, mapping, wireless networks, and digital resources presents significant opportunities. DePIN's efficiency gives it an edge, enabling the creation of superior and more affordable services for consumers", said David Garcia, managing partner at Borderless.

Rob Hadick from Dragonfly believes that while the interest in DePIN among VCs is likely to persist, there remains a challenge related to the protocols' low user adoption. "VCs are often captivated by how crypto and blockchains might redefine financial or social structures. However, despite the palpable nature of DePIN projects which boosts their appeal, they currently generate minimal revenue", Hadick commented. He pointed out that DePIN projects struggle with traditional marketing strategies in competitive sectors dominated by established players, and no project has yet to secure a significant user base. "The future of these projects remains uncertain unless a new trend emerges that shifts the current dynamics".

Anand Iyer, founder of Canonical Crypto, an early-stage VC firm, also sees great promise in the realm of decentralized hardware, especially with the growing computational demands of AI technologies. "Platforms like Akash Network and Ritual are at the forefront, and we anticipate more entities will utilize decentralized networks for broader applications beyond just crypto", Iyer remarked.

Conclusion

In the dynamic and evolving landscape of blockchain technology, Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePINs) stand out as a revolutionary approach that blends the digital and physical realms. By integrating real-world infrastructure with blockchain's decentralized mechanisms, DePINs offer a promising avenue for transforming traditional service delivery models.

Despite the significant venture capital infusion and the technological intrigue surrounding DePINs, the journey ahead is fraught with challenges. Adoption rates are modest as the sector strives to build a substantial user base that can drive sustained growth and viability. The technical complexity and initial operational costs pose substantial hurdles, particularly for providers managing private facilities. Yet, the potential for scalability and the democratization of access to essential services keep investor and developer interests alive.

The real promise of DePINs lies in their ability to offer more equitable, efficient, and accessible services across various sectors—from wireless networks to data storage and beyond. Projects like Helium and Filecoin exemplify how DePINs can innovate within niche markets, creating decentralized solutions that not only compete with but also potentially outperform their centralized counterparts.

As we look to the future, the continued evolution of DePINs will depend on overcoming current limitations through enhanced user education, refined economic models, and strategic growth initiatives. The integration of advanced technologies such as AI and the expanding use of tokens must be aligned with practical, user-centric applications to ensure that DePINs can achieve their transformative potential.

In conclusion, while the road ahead is challenging, the foundational principles of DePINs—open access, decentralization, and community-driven development—herald a new era of infrastructure management. With strategic investment and continuous innovation, DePINs may well redefine how services are delivered, making them more accessible, affordable, and aligned with the needs of a global digital economy

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