DePIN Sector Sees Resurgence In 2024

Key entrepreneurs and investors say that the infrastructure is ready.

By: Owen Fernau Loading...

DePIN Sector Sees Resurgence In 2024

A space that was highly hyped in 2017 is witnessing a revival in 2024, with a bit more substance — and a new name — this time around.

The Decentralized Physical Infrastructure Networks (DePIN) sector has more than doubled in the last six months from roughly $10 billion to roughly $25 billion, according to a dashboard from EV3, a firm focused exclusively on the vertical.

DePIN Market Cap chart
DePIN Market Cap

DePIN is, broadly speaking, a subsector of crypto which incentivizes the production of a resource, such as data storage (Filecoin, Arweave), mobile data (Helium), or computing power (Render, Akash).

Salvador Gala, the co-founder of EV3, told The Defiant that the dePIN space has quietly taken off in the two years since his firm’s founding. “When we first started, there were about 25 companies in the space. Today, we’re tracking almost 1,000,” he said.

DePIN Sector as of December 2023
DePIN Sector as of December 2023

Gala sees dePIN networks giving rise to a class of money representing digital commodities. “You have Bitcoin and ETH-style money, you have stablecoin-backed money, or you have digital commodity-backed money,” he said.

The EV3 founder doesn’t necessarily see this happening soon — like other founders that The Defiant spoke with, he’s thinking in terms of decades.

For example, Alex Rawitz, co-founder of Dimo Network, a project aiming to create a network for sharing driving data with third parties, told The Defiant he thinks it will take 20 years to get the entire auto industry running on one standardized piece of decentralized software.

DePIN isn’t a new concept — Filecoin, one of the leading projects in the space which aims to bring down digital hosting expenses by allowing individuals and businesses to rent out their unused disk space, launched in 2014.

Evolution of DePIN. Source: Messari
Evolution of DePIN. Source: Messari

However, Gala sees dePIN as working similarly to DeFi in that the advantages come from composability, or the systems’ ability to integrate. The EV3 co-founder noted that Dimo had already mapped around 14% of Helium hotspots.

In practice, this means that DIMO Macarons, hardware devices that transmit cars’ data like location, go through the Helium network, explained Rawitz. “ Helium has seen gamers who try to fake hotspot locations to boost earnings,” he said in a follow-up email. “The validation goes the other way around too — we know that a car is not being faked because the user would have to fake their GPS and fake the hotspots they are pretending to interact with.”

A DIMO Macaron device
A DIMO Macaron

Emerging moves to tokenize U.S. treasuries, corporate bonds, and the burgeoning stablecoin sector, are other areas where blockchains’ roles as substrates of speculation fade and the technology’s role as infrastructure becomes more clear.

DePIN appears primed to become another sector where blockchains are seen more as a means to an end rather than the final product.

However, it’s natural to ask “why now” for DePIN. For Abhay Kumar, CEO of the Helium Foundation, an organization that supports the eponymous protocol, a lot comes down to the infrastructure being ready.

The Helium team decided to start their own chain in 2019 before migrating to Solana in 2023. “It is great to not have to worry about block production,” Kumar told The Defiant.

Like EV7’s Gala, the Helium Foundation CEO also emphasized composability aspects. “Other people have built things, and you can use it, and you can trust that it's being built well because they are open source verifiable programs that are onchain,” he said when asked why DePIN is gaining traction in 2024.

To be sure, the DePIN space has had plenty of high-profile detractors. An article from Forbes skewered Helium for enriching insiders. When asked about this, a representative from the Helium Foundation said that most of the claims in the article were taken out of context or proven false. The representative emphasized that Helium did not do a “pre-mine,” a term used when people allocate tokens for themselves before beginning a blockchain project.

Still, it’s rare to hear people in crypto talking in terms of years, let alone decades. Whether DePIN really enables commodity-backed money to emerge or fizzles out again, will play out in the coming years.

Gala, for one, thinks that DePIN is hitting its stride. He said that his lightbulb moment for DeFi was when he used the derivatives protocol Synthetix to both swap and add leverage. “I think DePIN is just hitting that point now,” Gala said.