Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative for the Financial System
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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative to the Global Financial System

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Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative to the Global Financial System

Decentralized Finance: An Emerging Alternative

The global financial system has created massive wealth, but its centralized nature means the spoils have gone to the people who are best connected to the financial centers of the world.

As global inequality continues to rise, how can wealth building tools become more accessible to the rest of the global population?

Luckily, technological developments and their rapid adoption make this the right time for a new decentralized financial system to emerge:

  • The Internet: 3.9 billion users by the end of 2018
  • The proliferation of smartphones: Two-thirds of the unbanked have mobile phones
  • Digital banking: over 2 billion users by end of 2018
  • Bitcoin and Blockchain: the emergence of new public blockchains

Today’s infographic comes to us from investment app Abra, and it highlights how public blockchains could help to enable a decentralized finance system.

What is Decentralized Finance?

Decentralized finance describes a new decentralized financial system that is built on public blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum. After all, Bitcoin and Ethereum aren’t just digital currencies — they’re foundational open source networks that could be used to change how the global economy works.

There are six primary features that differentiate public blockchains from the private networks used by governments and traditional financial institutions:

  • Permissionless: Anyone in the world can connect to the network
  • Decentralized: Records are kept simultaneously across thousands of computers
  • Trustless: A central party isn’t required to ensure transactions are valid
  • Transparent: All transactions are publicly auditable
  • Censorship Resistant: A central party cannot invalidate user transactions
  • Programmable: Developers can program business logic into low-cost financial services

In such a financial system, users will have access to apps that use public blockchains to participate in new open global markets – but how would this shape the global financial system for the better?

The Potential Impact of Decentralized Finance

Here are five ways that decentralized finance will have an impact on the world:

1. Wider Global Access to Financial Services

With decentralized finance, anyone with an internet connection and a smartphone could access financial services. There are a variety of barriers that prevent access in the current system:

  • Status: Lack of citizenship, documentation, credentials, etc.
  • Wealth: High entry-level funds required to access financial services
  • Location: Vast distance from functioning economies and financial service providers

In a decentralized financial system, a top trader at a financial firm would have the same level of access as a farmer in a remote region of India.

2. Affordable Cross-Border Payments

Decentralized finance removes costly intermediaries to make remittance services more affordable for the global population.

In the current system, it’s prohibitively expensive for people to send money across borders: the average global remittance fee is 7%. Through decentralized financial services, remittance fees could be below 3%.

3. Improved Privacy and Security

In decentralized finance, users have custody of their wealth and can transact securely without validation from a central party. Meanwhile, in the current system, custodial institutions put people’s wealth and information at risk if they fail to secure it.

4. Censorship-Resistant Transactions

In a decentralized financial system, transactions are immutable and blockchains can’t be shut off by central institutions like governments, central banks, or big corporations.

In places with poor governance and authoritarianism, users can divest to the decentralized financial system to protect their wealth. For example, Venezuelans are already adopting Bitcoin to protect their wealth from government manipulation and hyperinflation.

5. Simple Use

Plug and play apps will allow people to intuitively use decentralized financial services without the complexity of the centralized system.

With a decentralized system, a woman in the Philippines could receive a loan from the U.S., invest in a business in Colombia, and then pay off her debt and purchase a home – all through interoperable apps.

The Potential Blue Sky

Unless governments and central banks suddenly cease to exist, it’s difficult to imagine a world where decentralized finance completely replaces their centralized counterparts.

But what if they can co-exist?

Public blockchains can interact with the traditional financial system to create a new hybrid model:

  • Users could conduct economic activity on public blockchains and exchange their new wealth into the centralized system.
  • Users could hedge against systemic risk by diversifying their wealth holdings in both the central and decentralized system.

Like the internet with knowledge, decentralized finance could help democratize the financial system.

But will we allow it?

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The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

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The World’s Most Used Apps by Downstream Traffic Share

The World’s Most Used Apps, by Downstream Traffic

Of the millions of apps available around the world, just a small handful of the most used apps dominate global internet traffic.

Everything connected to the internet takes bandwidth to view. When you look at something on your smartphone—whether it’s a new message on Instagram or the next few seconds of a YouTube video—your device is downloading the data in the background.

And the bigger the files, the more bandwidth is utilized. In this chart, we break down of the most used apps by category, using Sandvine’s global mobile traffic report for 2021 Q1.

Video Drives Global Mobile Internet Traffic

The biggest files use the most data, and video files take the cake.

According to Android Central, streaming video ranges from about 0.7GB per hour of data for a 480p video to 1.5GB per hour for 1080. A 4K stream, the highest resolution currently offered by most providers, uses around 7.2GB per hour.

That’s miles bigger than audio files, where high quality 320kbps music streams use an average of just 0.12GB per hour. Social network messages are usually just a few KB, while the pictures found on them can range from a few hundred KB for a low resolution image to hundreds of MB for high resolution.

Understandably, breaking down mobile downstream traffic by app category shows that video is on top by a long shot:

CategoryDownstream Traffic Share (2021 Q1)
Video Streaming48.9%
Social Networking19.3%
Web13.1%
Messaging6.7%
Gaming4.3%
Marketplace4.1%
File Sharing1.3%
Cloud1.1%
VPN and Security0.9%
Audio0.2%

Video streaming accounts for almost half of mobile downstream traffic worldwide at 49%. Audio streaming, including music and podcasts, accounts for just 0.2%.

Comparatively, social network and web browsing combined make up one third of downstream internet traffic. Games, marketplace apps, and file sharing, despite their large file sizes, only require one-time downloads that don’t put as big of a strain on traffic as video does.

A Handful of Companies Own the Most Used Apps

Though internet traffic data is broken down by category, it’s worth noting that many apps consume multiple types of bandwidth.

For example, messaging and social network apps, like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat, allow consumers to stream video, social network, and message.

Even marketplace apps like iTunes and Google Play consume bandwidth for video and audio streaming, and together account for 6.3% of total mobile downstream traffic.

But no single app had a bigger footprint than YouTube, which accounts for 20.4% of total global downstream bandwidth.

CategoryTop Apps (Category Traffic)Category Traffic Share
Video StreamingYouTube47.9%
Video StreamingTikTok16.1%
Video StreamingFacebook Video14.6%
Video StreamingInstagram12.1%
Video StreamingNetflix4.3%
Video StreamingOther5.0%
Social NetworkingFacebook50.5%
Social NetworkingInstagram41.9%
Social NetworkingTwitter2.4%
Social NetworkingOdnoklassniki1.9%
Social NetworkingQQ0.7%
Social NetworkingOther2.9%
MessagingWhatsApp31.4%
MessagingSnapchat16.5%
MessagingFacebook VoIP14.3%
MessagingLINE12.1%
MessagingSkype4.1%
MessagingOther21.6%
WebGoogle41.2%
WebOther58.8%

The world’s tech giants had the leading app in the four biggest data streaming categories. Alphabet’s YouTube and Google made up almost half of all video streaming and web browsing traffic, while Facebook’s own app, combined with Instagram and WhatsApp, accounted for 93% of global social networking traffic and 45% of messaging traffic.

Traffic usage by app highlights the data monopoly of tech giants and internet providers. Since just a few companies account for a majority of global smartphone internet traffic, they have a lot more bartering power (and responsibility) when it comes to our general internet consumption.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

Smartphones can contain ~80% of the stable elements on the periodic table. This graphic details the critical metals you carry in your pocket.

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Visualizing the Critical Metals in a Smartphone

In an increasingly connected world, smartphones have become an inseparable part of our lives.

Over 60% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone and smartphone adoption continues to rise in developing countries around the world.

While each brand has its own mix of components, whether it’s a Samsung or an iPhone, most smartphones can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

But some of the vital metals to build these devices are considered at risk due to geological scarcity, geopolitical issues, and other factors.

Smartphone PartCritical Metal
Touch Screen indium
Displaylanthanum; gadolinium; praseodymium; europium; terbium; dysprosium
Electronicsnickel, gallium, tantalum
Casingnickel, magnesium
Battery lithium, nickel, cobalt
Microphone, speakers, vibration unit nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium

What’s in Your Pocket?

This infographic based on data from the University of Birmingham details all the critical metals that you carry in your pocket with your smartphone.

1. Touch Screen

Screens are made up of multiple layers of glass and plastic, coated with a conductor material called indium which is highly conductive and transparent.

Indium responds when contacted by another electrical conductor, like our fingers.

When we touch the screen, an electric circuit is completed where the finger makes contact with the screen, changing the electrical charge at this location. The device registers this electrical charge as a “touch event”, then prompting a response.

2. Display

Smartphones screens display images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). Just like in most TVs and computer monitors, a phone LCD uses an electrical current to adjust the color of each pixel.

Several rare earth elements are used to produce the colors on screen.

3. Electronics

Smartphones employ multiple antenna systems, such as Bluetooth, GPS, and WiFi.

The distance between these antenna systems is usually small making it extremely difficult to achieve flawless performance. Capacitors made of the rare, hard, blue-gray metal tantalum are used for filtering and frequency tuning.

Nickel is also used in capacitors and in mobile phone electrical connections. Another silvery metal, gallium, is used in semiconductors.

4. Microphone, Speakers, Vibration Unit

Nickel is used in the microphone diaphragm (that vibrates in response to sound waves).

Alloys containing rare earths neodymium, praseodymium and gadolinium are used in the magnets contained in the speaker and microphone. Neodymium, terbium and dysprosium are also used in the vibration unit.

5. Casing

There are many materials used to make phone cases, such as plastic, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even gold. Commonly, the cases have nickel to reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and magnesium alloys for EMI shielding.

6. Battery

Unless you bought your smartphone a decade ago, your device most likely carries a lithium-ion battery, which is charged and discharged by lithium ions moving between the negative (anode) and positive (cathode) electrodes.

What’s Next?

Smartphones will naturally evolve as consumers look for ever-more useful features. Foldable phones, 5G technology with higher download speeds, and extra cameras are just a few of the changes expected.

As technology continues to improve, so will the demand for the metals necessary for the next generation of smartphones.

This post was originally featured on Elements

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