Thanks to the transparency and auditability of blockchains, blockchain technology has created many new and innovative use cases and has meaningfully impacted the way the world does business. Examples include seamless payments, shipment tracking, identification, zero-knowledge information sharing, and more. Many projects operating in these industries have created blockchain-based solutions that lower costs and improve transparency and outcomes while maximizing efficiency and value.
NFTs – non-fungible tokens – are a new tech add-on that works with blockchain. They are cryptographic digital assets that can be encoded with unique data and identifiers. When used the right way, they can offer a vast amount of real-world utility, and they are now starting to gain widespread use in a number of industries.
NFTs first started gaining popularity in the art world, with limited edition artworks being sold to collectors as unique NFTs. Initially, much of the value of these early NFTs was based on how old they were; the older the NFT, the more valuable it was. Being part of an in-demand collection also drove substantial interest in early NFTs. However, like barcodes and QR codes, NFTs are more than just images, and they can be encoded and encrypted with a vast amount of data. When combined with a trading engine, these digital assets can then be bought and sold, and all of the value and functionalities that are built into the NFT are then transferred to the NFT’s new owner.
Within this framework, there are no limits to the functionalities that can be built into an NFT, and a new type of NFT – Connectivity NFTs – has been created to deliver secure, transparent, low-cost, and blockchain-powered solutions in a variety of settings.
NFT Use Cases: Connectivity NFTs
Two notable examples of how NFTs are being creatively used in real-world scenarios are UNICEF and 3air, both of which use NFTs to create a connectivity solution for children in schools and general users in underserved urban markets.
UNICEF announced in December 2021 that it planned to sell 1,000 NFTs to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Proceeds from the auction and other NFT fundraising events have been earmarked for initiatives of the UNICEF Global Office of Innovation, including Project Connect and Giga. These are UNICEF initiatives that aim to connect every school in the world to the internet. To date, Giga has connected over 3,000 schools using these connectivity NFTs and mapped over one million more to help guide investment decisions in education. It has also provided internet access to over 700,000 students along the way.
Another project that is using connectivity NFTs in interesting ways is 3air, an ambitious project that aims to connect a billion users in Africa to the internet over the coming years. Using highly effective yet low-cost hardware to create a mesh network of connectivity devices, 3air can deliver low-cost internet access to remote areas as well as dense urban areas without data loss or connectivity issues. The project has run successful trials that deliver connectivity to users at a fraction of the cost of the available alternatives that provide internet access via cell phone towers and fiber optic cables.
3air will allow users to acquire services by using NFTs. First, 3air issues an NFT that identifies the user’s hardware. This NFT can also be used to remotely manage devices. Next, Connectivity NFTs are issued. These NFTs contain the information and access parameters needed to connect a specific device to the internet and other resources such as bandwidth or higher data transfer speeds.
Users will be able to mint NFTs in the 3air marketplace. They can choose the exact type and location of the services they would like to receive, and all NFTs will hold an intrinsic value expressed in USD. This means that all NFTs will be tradable – along with the access privileges, bandwidth, connection speeds, service levels, and other parameters associated with that NFT.
In the future, leaders at 3air expect secondary markets in the telecom space to spring up for trading and exchanging connectivity solutions and digital assets in marketplaces like that of 3air. This NFT-based approach to business and commerce also opens possibilities for new business models and philanthropic donations using Connectivity NFTs, as is being done by UNICEF’s Giga initiative and others.
In September, 3air and its telecom partner K3 Telecom successfully connected a school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with free internet connectivity via K3’s “Last Mile” solution. This provided students with greater access to educational resources and opportunities.
3air’s CEO Sandi Bitenc commented on the event by saying: “Connectivity is an important step in ensuring that everyone has access to the same opportunities. We are committed to connecting people and communities to create an environment where young talents feel empowered to learn and share without limits.”
Connectivity NFTs are creating entirely new ways for businesses and users to connect, share resources, and improve internet access and connectivity in some of the world’s most underserved regions. Instead of relying on fiat donations and then waiting for the installation of physical infrastructure to get people online, Connectivity NFTs and projects such as 3air are simplifying and accelerating the go-to-market strategy for connecting the next billion users to the internet with fast, performant, and cost-effective services. In the process, they are also connecting these new users to Web3 and the cryptocurrency industry.
With heavyweights such as UNICEF already on board, it is only a matter of time before Connectivity NFTs and similar blockchain-based solutions gain even more momentum, and projects such as 3air will be instrumental in laying the groundwork for those projects and the users they target to get online and enjoy the benefits of the internet that they have been deprived of for far too long.