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DAVOS — It’s incredible who you can meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos. After attending a blockchain talk hosted by blockchain software firm ConsenSys, I was fortunate enough to interview a man who was the driving force behind the rollout of 4G mobile broadband across the globe. Ron Resnick, a former Intel Veteran, was instrumental in the rollout of 4G wireless broadband as President and Chairman of the Board of the WiMAX Forum. He spent a decade at Intel in senior positions in capital investment and business development, including launching and managing Intel’s Broadband Wireless business delivering one of the first 4G broadband modems. I was lucky enough to interview him and ask him about why and how he got involved in becoming the new Executive Director of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), an organisation that seeks to help blockchain technologies create a clear roadmap for enterprise features and requirements. He is an outsider to blockchain, but his experience on rolling out 4G and helping to standardise new tech could usher in a new era. – Gareth van Zyl
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Ron Resnick, I’m the Executive Director of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, been doing this for one week.
So what is the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance?
Okay so we call it the EA. The EA is a standards body that will write specifications with the focus on the applications of Blockchain for the enterprise and what we do is, we will look at the markets and based upon the inputs from our members, of which we have over 300 members from all over the world. They will write, let’s say a document of requirement that then we’ll use to come up with conclusions of where are the most important areas to focus for the enterprise Blockchain ecosystem and then we will start writing a specification just like a standard specification like what you would write for Wi-Fi or LTE and that specification then is used by developers to write the code, the software and then build applications targeted to the different areas that they wanted to pursue.
But the good news is that the requirements are based upon the Ethereum Foundation, the white paper from the Ethereum. Then we write these specifications and one of the things that our organisation does which is different is that all these specifications require or accept the understanding that they are open source, so the solutions have no intellectual property where folks can try to collect royalty on it. It’s Linux, it’s open source. So that’s our world and our organisation requires if you join you have to pay some money to join, but we’ve kept the fees extremely low for all these developers.
It’s only $3,000 to join for a year. Most of these organisations, it can be 10, 20 or 50, it could be really expensive. So there has to be some money to pay because that’s how we function, but the bottom line is we’re trying to do something that will really enable the ecosystem and help all these folks who want to develop, have some kind of baseline modules and understand their currency – so then they don’t have to reinvent everything about Blockchain on their own.
So, Ron you have a very interesting background because you’re quite new to Blockchain and you’re also heavily involved in the development of LTE. Can you tell us more?
Well our precursor to LTE was called WiMAX and that happened, gosh let’s see 15 years ago and if you remember the bottom line, 3G really never worked and it never worked because it couldn’t stream video. That’s all the next generation’s really about, so you can stream video on your phone. So anyway I was in Intel and I actually ended up making the first chip. I was the GM, I convinced Intel to fund it and so we made a chip and it was based, again this is why I’ve got a significant understanding about standards and specifications on a spec and it came out of the IEEE and it’s similar to Wi-Fi which is based on an IEEE spec 802.11 and then you have the Wi-Fi alliance. So we took an IEEE spec, we created an alliance when I was at Intel. We needed a big company to make these chips and so we made a WiMAX chip and it was disruptive because the 3G world didn’t want to see it happen that fast.
So we launched it, a number of fellow travellers and it ended up being that many of the big operators in some of the systems companies wanted to continue to perpetuate 3G (I know we’re not talking Blockchain here), so they actually tried to do things to kill it and so it took a while for this notion of LTE to take off. It happened four or five years after WiMAX started, so my one credit is I helped accelerate it. If it wasn’t for when I started to deal with some others, Intel and this WiMAX stuff, I don’t think LTE would’ve come around as fast because they still wanted to milk the 3G, for which they never recouped their investment. So as you know LTE is everywhere, it works great and now there’s even 5G and that’s going to be amazing. So that’s my background on the telecoms space.
What parallels do you see between what happened there with WiMAX and what’s happening now with Blockchain because there have been people like Jamie Dimon who’ve come out and previously called it a fraud and he then kind of backtracked?
Well in my world and WiMAX, there are some parallels and some not. We were being accused by the 3G guys of having Vaporware because it takes two, three years for the technology to be implemented and it’s sort of interesting because you have the infrastructure and then you have to have the phones. The phone guy said, “Show me the infrastructure, and I’ll make the phones”, the infrastructure guys said, “Show me the operators who want to buy it and then I’ll get the phone guys to make it”. So the bottom line, it’s really interesting. So how does that work in the world of Blockchain? It’ll be intriguing to see, maybe the parallels, there are always obstacles for something to really take off that’s innovative and new and Blockchain actually is going to be bigger because in the world I was in, in telecom, the big telecom operators, there wasn’t room for the small guys.
Now in this world, it’s amazing. The small guys can raise some money; there are companies like Encentus and others who are doing things, so I think that it’s almost apples and oranges. I think that some of the business challenges might be similar for startups to figure out how to make money and you were chatting about that, but this is going to be a crazy world with Blockchain and how it’s going to merge and the only other point that I make, which is not tied to your question is, Blockchain (you heard the talk) can solve certain social issues.
It’s not just for transactions, it can be contracts…
Yes or identity or health. What could telecom – I mean with telecom you can watch video, so I think it’s going to be phenomenal and as you mentioned in South Africa, a mass amount of people are looking at it. There’s a downside though because folks don’t really understand that there’s an enterprise aspect to this that’s bigger than the phenomenon of cryptocurrency. So I get asked to do an interview on cryptocurrency, I turn them down because they want to know what I think is going to happen there. I don’t want to deal with it and I think it’s confusing some of the players because when I talk to some of them, “Oh, I need to invest in there, how do I get involved?” They don’t understand that the real opportunity for the average person who is not going to invest in cryptocurrency, particularly now, who’s knowing the world, they’re going to spend $11-12,000, the people I know, isn’t going to happen.
So what attracted you to Blockchain? You have a fascinating background.
Actually I wasn’t attracted to Blockchain, I was approached and that’s part of that discussion where some folks are saying, “No, they were already here”. I don’t think so, I think that – I’m an ex-Intel exec, I have experience running an industry or organisation, so an ex-Intel guy who’s on the board, well an Intel person’s on the board of the EEA through him and some other contacts in Intel, they called me up. It wasn’t like I was dialling up and saying, “I need the entrance of the wonderful world of Blockchain because I didn’t know anything about it.
So it was the guys from ConsenSys?
No Intel. Really Intel’s honour board, so they’re talking about these big companies in the tech, they’re in on it and they did a good thing because they knew that this world needs some structure and I’d say oversight with experience on how to put together the industry organisations and the specifications, that the average folks in this world don’t have the experience with.
The bank, they don’t know about it, even the folks that you’re probably dealing with and for sure these developer entities, they’re not going to think about a standard or an industry. So I was approached, so to the credit of what Blockchain’s about, I did some research and over a period of a month and taking the window.com course and some other courses I started learning more and more about it and I went, “Hmmm, this is interesting stuff” and so I jumped in on it and I wasn’t sure I was going to want to do it, but bottom line, I sort of ended up doing it. It had enough attraction.
For you to get involved.
Exactly. With what I know, there aren’t many folks that know how to run and have all the background that I have so I do get approached by recruiters and I usually turn them down, but this one I didn’t and so I’m here.
So what you’re doing now could fundamentally formalise the world of Blockchain, it could actually put it in the hands of every woman, man, and child in the world.
Well what I’m doing now will contribute to that if we can do the job of creating a standard and it’s based on the Ethereum Foundation stuff, but that’s pretty much what’s being significantly used in open source with no one company driving it and it should help a lot. Then the developers who want to use our stuff, they can take it and it’s free. We would hope that if they really want the benefit of org, they really wanted to actually contribute to the requirements so that they get what they want; they need to join and participate in the meeting space. Ultimately what we’re going to do is, have a certification programme, just like you know, you put your phone in. Your phone (believe me) goes through an incredible amount of certification.
It does and certification ties regulation in as well.
Yes and regulatory, but certification where they’re testing that phone out through independent authority who’s running 800 tests on this phone with million Dollar test equipment to make sure that before it goes into the South African telecom operators, but in the US it could be AT&T, Sprint, they all require the phones to be certified by an entity in the world of 3G. It could be European tech, Etsy is one, and that’s what we’re going to do, so it should be good, it should be helpful.
What is the reaction from other delegates when you start chatting to them about Blockchain because there are many traditional bankers, corporates here?
This is my first one, so I don’t have a lot of history here; the folks at Davos attract other kinds of investors and folks who would naturally migrate to wanting to know about things like Blockchain as opposed to your classical traditional investor groups. They may never come and they’re going to look at real estate syndications and you know, all those things. That’s why this world’s really interesting because they’re so enamoured about Blockchain. It’s still small in a way. Everybody wants to know about it and wants to hear about it, but for most of them it’s more about bitcoin and Ethereum on the cryptocurrency side.
And there’s a clear distinction between the cryptocurrency side and the Blockchain side.
And how it works, but the interesting thing is cryptocurrency, like bitcoin and Ethereum are based upon the Blockchain technology and people don’t know that and so Joe Lubin who’s an amazing visionary, and saw that three or four years ago and said, “We need an enterprise use case for this” and that’s what’s happened.
Ron, it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with you today.
Thanks, I appreciate it.
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