Recently I was interviewed by Fabrizio, an Italian software developer and blogger, about the IoTeX Blockchain. I’m publishing here the English translation of the interview, you can find the original Italian interview on the Fabrizio’s blog: https://fabryprog.blogspot.com/2018/11/iotex-intervista-simone-romano.html
Hi Simone, please introduce yourself a bit: who are you, what do you do?
Hello Fabrizio, and thank you for your interest in the IoTeX project! I am 41 years old, and have always been passionate about computer technology. I graduated in Computer Engineering specializing in Automation and Industrial Robotics, then my professional career followed a more “industrial” path that IT, though in a very innovative sector. For the latest 10 years, I have been working at my own small company where I design advanced automatic machines, which perform quality control on 100% of the products in a producion line. In short, I provide manufacturing companies with machines equipped with digital cameras and image processing software: those machines “inspect” and “evaluate” all the pieces that are produced, rejecting those which do not comply with the specifications. In the same field I also own several industrial patents, both Italian and international.
How did you approach the blockchain and IoTeX world?
Since I deal more with automation than IT, I came to know about this technology quite late: only at the end of 2017, when it was newrly impossible not to hear about blockchain! Since then the blockchain captured me: I began studying whitepapers, and reading source code. A few months later, in April 2018, one person asked me for a technical opinion about this new project dedicated to the Internet of Things, IoTeX. After a few days spent in the IoTeX official Telegram group I immediately realized that was something “different”, not only because the technological solution they proposed seemed perfect for the IoT, but above all for the professionalism, accuracy, and the strong academic footprint of the team.
IoTeX declares itself as a new DLT dedicated to the IoT world. Can you explain the basic operation without going too far into the details?
I will start by saying that IoTeX does not use a DAG based architecture, instead it’s based on Blockchain. To understand the reasons for this choice, we must remember that the IoT does not only require a network which can scale massively, but also capable of managing the wide heterogeneity of IoT devices and all the possible use cases, while still assuring maximum security against the violation of the devices themselves. Let’s not forget that IoT devices, by interacting with people’s lives in very direct and often “invisible” ways, expose users to risks not only of a financial nature, but also “physical”: risks of home safety, for example.
Blockchain technology, thanks largely to Bitcoin, has been extensively tested for over 10 years, and has proven extreme security and reliability. It is true that it has limits of scalability and efficiency, but it is equally true that new technologies of consensus and new architectures proposed over the years have proved very promising in overcoming these limits, opening new possibilities for the use of blockchain. The IoTeX team decided to innovate on top of these existing technologies, thus maintaining all the benefits of the blockchain, yet adding its own contribution to overcome the problems of scalability, heterogeneity of the devices, and lack of user privacy. This results almost obviously in an architecture made up of specialized sub-networks ( “subchains”), linked together by an innovative consensus mechanism called Roll-DPoS ( “Randomized Delegated Proof of Stake” ): together they provide massive scalability, configurability, almost instantaneous transactions, and all without sacrificing security, decentralization and reliability, already guaranteed by the blockchain architecture. On top of this flexible and scalable main core made of “ Subchain + Roll-DPos “, IoTeX adds more unique features: such as private transactions , “ light “ cryptographic algorithms for low power/low cpu IoT devices, smart contracts, or SPV (“Simplified Payment Verification” ) in a secure fashion. Whith the latter allowing those extremely limited IoT devices which cannot count on a trusted full-node, to interact directly with the blockchain in a lightweight yet secure way.
How is the development of IoTeX organized? And where do you find the informations?
The IoTeX project started publicly only in April 2018, with the issuance of the temporary token ERC20 (IOTX) to act in place of the native token until the completion of the IoTeX blockchain. The team consists of about 30 people, all of great experience, and is constantly looking for new talents . I advice everyone to visit the website www.iotex.io to check out the team background, especially the 4 co-founders: they alone bring an exceptional set of experiences: Raullen and Quevan, scientists researchers in security, cryptography and machine learning coming from companies likes Google, Facebook and Uber; Jing, a venture capitalist expert in investments in technology companies, startups and building of ecosystems; Professor Xinxin Fan, with over 50 academic articles on cryptography (including those on light cryptography and scalable PBFT, used in IoTeX) is considered a celebrity in the academic environment of cryptography.
I started helping IoTeX out almost immediately: as a Community Leader for Italy I manage the events and the Italian Telegram group , as a Brand Ambassador I will represent IoTeX in fairs, conferences or other events in the field. Therefore I am lucky to work closely with the team and with the other Brand Ambassadors: we organize our work every day both in chat and through regular video calls.
The development of the IoTeX blockchain proceeds at a fast pace: the Testnet Alpha was released in June, already delivering a web wallet and a blockchain explorer thus providing the community with a tangible product; the Testnet Beta arrived in August, adding support for smart contracts and Solidity; finally, the Mainnet Preview is going to be released in a few hours today, November 15th, and will show a first implementation of the “subchains“ architecture, including “cross-chain” transactions. Beside accurate roadmap execution, we saw the publication of relevant academic articles and high quality source code .
If you think that functionalities such as subchains, D-PoS consensus, private transactions, individually represent the core concept of entire projects (like subchains for Cosmos, or D-PoS for EOS, or privacy for MONERO), and that the IoTeX team is developing all of them together in one single architecture you can perhaps guess what is the long term vision of this team: IoTeX is not a concept-network for IoT: on the opposite, it’s designed to work from day one, to be used by everyone in our everyday things, in a matter of few years.
With respect to well-tested technologies such as IOTA, can you tell IoTeX pros and cons?
In IOTA architecture transactions are organized all together in one single, large, directed acyclic graph (“DAG”) where there is no global consensus. On the opposite, transactions in IoTeX are organized in hierarchical sub-blockchains and confirmed by a global consensus mechanism. The advantage of IOTA is certainly the simplicity of the network: by removing the concept of blocks, global consensus, and mining, sure you get a streamlined network, but I would not define IOTA a “well-tested” technology: indeed, although it’s been developed for 4 years, such a “different” approach requires a lot of research and development: for example, to compensate for the lack of those features of safety and reliability that had originally imposed the use of blocks and global conensus in the blockchain, it is necessary to for IOTA to build (and carefully test!) suitable substitutive techniques , that can guarantee the same level of safety and reliability already provided by blockchain.
On the other side IoTeX, by leveraging blockchain technology, already provides all those guarantees, and from there it starts with its own innovations: a configurable sub-chains architecture,where each subchain is configurable with all those features required by the different use cases. All nodes can interact almost instantly with each other, regardless of the subchain they belong to, by means of crosschain transactions. The Roll-DPoS consensus mechanism, inspired by the DPoS of EOS, improves the state of the art becoming more democratic, more decentralized and, above all, massively scalable. Literally “replicating” itself while the network grows, Roll-DPoS can manage the consensus for the new subchains in parallel, while subchains can even have their own consensus algorithm, possibly supporting zero-fees transactions if required by the use case.
This architecture, based on customizable sub-networks and a fast, scalable consensus mechanism, allows IoTeX not only to provide a reliable network leveraging blockchain technology (this one surely well tested!), but also to directly integrate features such as smart-Contract, SPV, and privacy, which are very desired in most IoT scenarios.
Can you make a comparison?
Doing a technical comparison between two totally different architectures is almost impossible: the famous comparison between apples and oranges! Moreover, to fully understand IOTA technology, advanced theoretical skills are required that very few people have. It is very hard to understand how it behaves in reality, also taking into account new projects announced this year, such as QUBIC, MAM, Local Snapshots. I think that the point of comparing IOTA with any other DLT technology is all here: IOTA must proove that it is actually capable of realizing a decentralized, secure and scalable network, and must do this in reality, not solely on papers. Only then we will be able to understand which applications can take advantage of it, and make a practical comparison on real world application.
In fact, the Internet of Things is not just M2M, but by definition it includes endless devices and use cases. IoTeX provides a complete framework for the Internet of Things: designed to be used immediately, it is based on reliable technology such as blockchain, and innovates by providing all the features you need in every IoT application . Data privacy, real-time confirmation times, smart contracts, light cryptographic algorithms, secure SPV, zero-fees transactions: are all functions build-in IoTeX, available to IoT device manufacturers and dApps developers. These functions are critical to build networks of autonomously coordinated heretogeneous devices, and they cannot be natively implemented in IOTA, because it lacks the concept of global consensus. For example, privacy and smart contracts in IOTA will probably be developed as second level solutions (e.g. QUBIC, MAM): this means that they are applications, or SDKs, which make use of the IOTA ledger, but that are not imposed by a decentralized and unchanging consent mechanism. In one case (MAM), the problem of user privacy is not solved (the data of the users remain in the hands of the device manufacturers who can still decide not to use MAM, or do not have the knowledge to use it, moreover does not hide the sender/receiver identity, only encrypts the data sent). In the other case (QUBIC) the security and features of smart contracts that are supposed to be provided are still to be verified.
Don’t you think that, at least in terms of scalability, IOTA is more performing than IoTeX?
Let’s start from the fact that machine-to-machine communication requires fast confirmations times, and 100% “sure” transactions. In fact, for most use cases, waiting times longer than a fraction of a minute are not acceptable for device coordination: imagine the lock which opens your front door when you come back home, or the coordination of an intersection with traffic lights.
How does IoTeX manage to do it? Since it uses a blockchain architecture, we know that transactions will get confirmed in blocks, on a fixed interval basis: that’s why IoTeX conensus was based on a variant of Delegated Proof of Stake, which allows for very short block-times (in IoTeX the block-time is not yet defined, but 3 seconds is definitely a reasonable value for it). Thanks to its highly scalable design, the Roll-DPoS mechanism can “replicate” itself being able to satisfy increasing volumes of transactions, therefore the block-time in IoTex will not limit the TPS, which in fact could theoretically scale up to infinity. It is true, however, that the block-time constitutes the lower limit for transactions confirmation time: if a blockchain generates 1 block every 3 seconds, then necessarily a transaction can never be confirmed earlier than three seconds, but this time can definitely be considered like “real-time” for any IoT scenario.
What happens with IOTA instead? In IOTA there is no “block-time” because the concept of “block as a container of valid transactions” does not exist, but when a transaction is sent on the IOTA Tangle, as well as those sent on the IoTeX blockchain, must undergo a confirmation process, which necessarily requires time. While in theory the expansion of the IOTA network should bring this time to ever lower values, in practice this fact has not been confirmed yet because the volume of transactions has not yet reached a sufficient level to speed up transaction confirmations. The confirmation of IOTA transactions to date still requires several minutes on average, and above all it is not constant, with transactions that could also remain unconfirmed requiring kind of a “re-send”.
All this keeping in mind that, unlike IoTeX, in IOTA you have to wait multiple confirmations to get a reasonable certainty that a transaction is valid, as many as required for the “weight” of the transactio to reach a value sufficient to reassure the receiver: in fact, in the Internet of things, a confirmed transaction often corresponds to an action in the real world (a lock that opens, a camera that turns on, a car that crosses an intersection), and if a transaction were subsequently invalidated, its effects in the real world almost certainly will not be “reversible” instead.
In short, the point is always the same: IoTeX proposes a valid, complete and immediately applicable solution: you can bet on the blockchain generating blocks filled with valid transactions on a constant frequency, simply because it has been doing so for 10 years now, and it does so in the most secure way. Block times of less than 1 second are widely proved for DPoS consensus in projects like EOS, while the scalable architecture of IoTeX is quite plausible, almost obvious in its concept, and the final confirmation will come with the mainnet very soon. On the other hand, IOTA’s performance, security and convenience are yet to be confirmed in reality.
When will the IoTeX MainNet be active?
Today November 15th, as we speak, the latest version of the Testnet, which is a “Mainnet Preview”, is about to be released. It will preview some new technological concepts that will be fully deployed in the Mainnet Alpha release in Q1 2019, when it will already be possible to convert the ERC20 IOTX token into the native blockchain token. From that moment on, throughout the whole 2019 and until the definitive release of the Mainnet GA at the end of the year, we will see code optimizations and the implementation of the most advanced features, such as light cryptography and private transactions.
Have they already advertised partnerships or side projects?
August 2018 has been the “month of partnerships” for IoTeX: in August the “IoTeX Partnership “ web portal has been published, several partnerships have been announced and a Proof of Concept has already been showed. Also with regard to partnerships, the team’s policy is a “long-term” one: no “purpose-less” partnerships get signed, nor those with “big-names”: the reason is that all these names that people would like to hear, like Samsung, Microsoft, or LG, while on the one hand they have an immediate effect on the price of the token (which usually turns out to be evanescent), on the other all these large groups are absolutely inadequate for the rapid development of proof of concepts. There will be a time when a partnership with these multinationals will make sense, but to get there IoTeX needs lean partners first, those who share the same vision and the same timing, creating working prototypes that show a real functional value quickly.
The partnerships with Lineable is one example: a company that will exploit the IoTeX blockchain for its wearable devices for tracking the health data to pre-diagnose different medical conditions. The company SmartHab instead, will use IoTeX blockchains for their HAB platform: a decentralized registry that stores critical data from smart buildings and cities, with the aim of creating a verifiable and certified source of data to be used, for example, in case of insurance claims, and other uses. In addition to these and other partners published on the portal, the IoTeX team is working on more partnerships, some of which have already been confirmed, but that cannot be be disclosed yet.
Do you have any other interesting information you want to share?
Yes, I would like to point out that the IoTeX team encourages proposals for different types of partnerships: those companies and individuals who are interested in collaborating with IoTeX can visit the portal www.iotex.io/partnership from where they can access a request form.
In addition, with the recent release of the IoTeX Explorer source code, with the imminent arrival of the Alpha Mainnet, and SDKs, I would like to invite interested developers to test it and start building applications on IoTeX right now. I would also like to form a community of developers: every idea and contribution is welcome — you can contact me directly on the Italian IoTeX group , where everyone is invited to join!