DePIN, IoT Smart Cities and Critical Infrastructure

With the rise of cloud service providers and the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), an increasingly common solution incorporates smart sensor networks communicating with cloud-hosted applications.

IoT Networks and The Cloud

Most cloud service providers include technology to ease the engineering of these solutions.

IoT devices can be partitioned into those, that

  1. Have radios that either support IP protocols directly or indirectly via other devices such as mobile phones. Protocols abound, such as Bluetooth-LE, Zigbee, Z-Wave and DSRC. These devices are essentially ‘on the internet’ and do not need anything additional to connect to Clouds.
  2. Others, particularly legacy devices, use only short-range radio frequency (RF) protocols that are not internet-enabled. These can be configured to communicate to cloud services via some aggregation point, such as a gateway or perhaps a mobile app.

We see more devices now with 4G or 5G radios allowing them to connect directly to the internet and therefore cloud services.

The competitive nature of cloud service providers has seen the increasing support for IoT services, including IoT gateways and APIs. For instance AWS’ Lambda with Greengrass solution providing virtual ‘shadows’ of devices that are offline. These innovations are making the IoT to Cloud pattern ubiquitous. Many IoT devices now comes with pre-configured access to the Cloud, witness the AWS and Microchip partnership to achieve exactly this.

Cloud adoption allows devices to communicate with each other and to remove geographic boundaries and the Cloud is the natural place for security services such as identity management, firmware management, asset management and key and certificate management.

For many years, IoT network applications were built without any internet protocols, providing much value to the industry, but internet-enabled IoT devices and cloud services make this whole industry sector so much more agile and extensible. Now, even small agricultural farms can deploy IoT devices to monitor their business so they can respond efficiently to changes in weather and other factors.

Also, many new applications are now possible, for instance with car or personal crash detection automatically informing rescue services and with devices being able to leverage Cloud based AI.

Cloud IoT Service Providers

Some of the better known ones include,

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
    • Lambda, Machine Learning, Monitoring, Logging, starter kits with java nodeJS and Python. Thing Shadow services. MQTT.
    • AWS IoT Core – edge-to-cloud connectivity, IoT edge device configuration
    • AWS IoT Analytics – Query-based tools and filtering, transforms, and enrichment.
    • IoT Device Management – onboarding, monitoring and management, including firmware updates.
    • Amazon FreeRTOS – a microcontroller RTOS, with connectivity to IoT devices.
    • AWS Greengrass – Edge Devices compute, messaging, caching, sync and machine learning.
  • IBM Watson IoT Services Platform
    • Explores applications of cognitive computing, extracting insights from IoT data
    • Facility for digital twins.
    • Cyber provisions – secure device registration, attributes, customisable security roles and access controls, gateway security, and risk and security management
    • MQTT REST-based device registration, secured with HTTP based authentication
    • An extensible set of pre-defined security roles.
  • Microsoft Azure
    • IoT Hub (gateway) – Edge devices (AMQP, MQTT, HTTPS), SDKs, device twins, message routing support.
    • IoT Edge – Artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities on-device.
    • IoT Identity Registry – Per device permissions, i/d of all IoT Hub-connected devices; identity CRUD, retrieve, bulk import/export
    • Stream analytics, Machine learning studio, Notifications Hub

Other well regarded service providers include

  • SAP
  • Salesforce – Cloud Alliance Partner

Over time all of these services could be replaced by DePIN services.

There is a push for all IoT devices to adopt LoRAN and 6LoWPAN, making all devices Ip-addressable.

The near monopoly of established cloud service providers, such as AWS, Azure, GCP and IBM, is increasingly threatened by crowd-sourced, decentralised infrastructure networks (DePIN) services that can provide lower-cost solutions and a road-map focussed on their customers.

This is occurring across many sectors

  • Wearables
  • Vehicles
  • Smart Homes
  • Smart Grids, Roads and Buildings
  • Retail Parks, Passenger Rail and Airways
  • Industrial IoT, including Energy, Refining, Pipelines, Power Generation, Manufacturing, Agriculture, Transportation, and Logistics

Decentralised Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePIN)

DePIN services are built on public decentralised blockchains. These are

  • Permissionless – everyone has permission to use them. That removes all the hurdles and administration of permissions.
  • Trustless – by design, they inherently do not require trust to use. This limits the costs associated with dealing with untrustworthy actors.

DAO Managed: Instead of a top-down command-and-control management team, DePINs are usually managed by decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs), which decide on things using on-chain voting. This provides maximum transparency.

Crowd-sourcing: DAOs can be used for many things. DePINs are a market for physical infrastructure with, on one side, a pool of crowd-sourced suppliers and, on the other, a pool of consumers of that infrastructure.

Payment is usually made in the blockchain’s own currency. This allows automatic payments from one blockchain wallet to another, driven by smart contracts. This is what makes the solution trustless. No person is involved in making that payment; The programming of the smart contract executes it. People naturally try to game this, and there have been successful attempts, but as the industry matures, these vulnerabilities increasingly get closed off. The DAO, on-chain governance and police involvement can all be used to address any hacks.

Internet protocols are an enabler here, as they are with Cloud Computing. The difference with DePIN is the crowd-sourcing of infrastructure resources. These DePIN projects need development to get off the ground, which means up-front funding; once built, there is a natural market on both the consumer and supplier sides.

Internet-of-things (IoT) DePIN Applications

The autonomous nature of DePIN marries well with that of IoT networks. Once established, both function without human intervention and both can scale to huge networks. Some early DePIN projects are in LoRAN, wireless and other network technologies. The IoT devices are network nodes that together create the mesh network. This service is commercially managed using DePIN, ensuring service providers get rewarded and service consumers pay for their service.

In addition to network infrastructure, similar DePIN services include positioning and environmental monitoring. All these are dependent on the location of the IoT device. DePIN’s competitors for these networks would find it difficult to manage them at the low costs DePIN achieves. Consider the early days of the internet, where there were no internet service providers (ISPs). They came later. If DePIN becomes successful in wifi mesh networks, there may come a day again when homes use DePIN network services to connect to the internet instead of large corporate ISPs.

Please look over the diagram above for many other DePIN sectors, including smart offices, smart stores, smart shelves, transit, buildings, roads, and grids. We can envisage most, if not all, of the IoT infrastructure of smart cities and critical infrastructure running on DePINs.


We should be concerned about the cybersecurity of our smart city or critical infrastructure. At ePatterns, we recommend the Internet of Things Security Institute’s (IoTSI‘s) open framework for Smart Cities and Critical Infrastructure (SCCI). The Smart Cities and Critical Infrastructure Security Professional (SCCISP) education and certification paths associated with this Institute are available as computer-based training at the SCCISP Campus.

The Campus has an entry-level, ‘Associate’ course and an advanced Foundation course. Both are excellent, with the foundation covering many IoT and smart cities and critical infrastructure areas. There is no competitor for such comprehensive coverage of SCCI cybersecurity.