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Basics of cryptocurrency: Risks and benefits

Should you buy in on the craze?

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For a while, cryptocurrencies became the talk of the town across the internet. People all over the world saw the potential of what is essentially “virtual money,” starting a frenzy of investments, theories, and yes, memes — particularly towards one of the more popular cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin.

But do we really understand the power these cryptocurrencies yield, and how such power can affect the whole world over?

What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies are virtual currencies that are exchanged online with no interference from anyone, not even the government. These currencies, through their language of cryptography, contain secured information and are exchanged through a recording system known as a blockchain.

No one regulates the exchanges and no one controls how much of the cryptocurrency should be out there, but the blockchain keeps all of the exchanges transparent and fair for everyone. Think of it as openly sharing your share of a pizza to a friend in exchange for money, with your other friends keeping track of the exchange. Your friends make sure that you have a slice of pizza to give, your friend has the money he promised you, and that these items are actually from each of you and not from someone else.

Because of the creation of numerous cryptocurrencies all over the internet, a virtual market has been created for people who are interested and invested in these virtual currencies to trade among themselves. Groups of people have also made an effort to produce their own cryptocurrencies from their computers through cryptomining. Cryptomining, much like regular mining, is creating cryptocurrency tokens (an online version of coins) and putting them into the blockchain to be traded; it’s printing your own money, except it’s done from a computer and shared online.

In Bitcoin, for example: People who want to contribute to its blockchain to earn some share of the cryptocurrency would go through activities such as cryptomining. Despite it being one of the primary activities for creating and gaining Bitcoin, it’s also one of the more expensive ways of doing so since most cryptomining setups require computers with the most up-to-date hardware and processing speeds. Any person who wishes to do cryptomining would spend a ton of money just for the necessary hardware — all just to mine their own Bitcoin.

Where did the hype come from?

The tailend of 2017 (October to December) saw people get into a frenzy towards cryptocurrencies and its perceived value — a frenzy driven by growing interest. People had started to not only be invested (pun intended) in learning about cryptocurrencies in general, but they also searched “Bitcoin” a whole lot.

With more people understanding cryptocurrencies, investments towards such virtual currencies (particularly towards Bitcoin) increased, thereby expanding the market by a whopping 1,200 percent. Imagine getting 15,000 shares on your Facebook post about your dog within two days – that’s how quickly it blew up.

Another phenomenon that contributed to the rise of cryptocurrencies is the creation of initial coin offerings (ICO). An ICO is a public, unregulated way of earning funds for cryptocurrencies and is widely used by startups to bypass the usual fundraising activities for capital; ICOs are much like crowdfunding (such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe), except no one controls how the funding goes.

ICOs are usually distributed in Bitcoins; these will be used to start projects or applications that people create but initially have no money to operate. Because people have new ideas and the Internet is one of the faster ways to have the idea develop and spread all over, more and more people would go through ICOs to fund their projects instead of getting bank loans or using their own money.

Effects of cryptocurrencies

The impact of these cryptocurrencies take on a grand scale, especially from an economic context. People continually join the hype towards cryptocurrencies, so much so that it drives demand for them. Participating in online trading for cryptocurrencies is faster than those in the stock market, and is easily accessible by people since it is unregulated.

As such, governments are pushing for cryptocurrencies as a means for payment to add convenience for customers, especially those with plans to go paperless with their money. The Indian government, for example, is learning to embrace Bitcoin within their monetary system after taking in measures against tax evasion in black markets; they are also looking into regulating Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as well in the near future.

The risk of partaking in cryptocurrencies lies in its greatest feature: an organic form of virtual currency. Because no entity has any control of cryptocurrencies — including governments — these virtual currencies are prone to online attacks (most common form of attack: hacking), which rapidly hamper their growth and reduce their value significantly. With a large number of people currently trading cryptocurrencies online, the risk of hackers increases significantly, causing these people to lose more money when worse comes to worst.

Another threat posed by its greatest feature is that people would abuse the high interest rates and entice new investors to purchase tokens. Because there is no body to regulate the trading online, people engage in scams to take advantage of new investors who are not guided properly in the virtual currency market — despite it being heavily secured by cryptography.

Participating in the schemes makes the trade unfair, even with efforts to make things equal for everyone. One example is the Bitcoin Savings and Trust Ponzi scheme in 2011, which was shut down in 2012 due to the perpetrator, Trendon Shavers, being accused of raising 700,000 BTC — all from new investors who didn’t know any better.

Cryptocurrencies at present

At the moment, Bitcoin remains to be the top-traded cryptocurrency within the market, valued at US$ 151.1 billion — in spite of its decline over the past few months. Countries are starting to either accept Bitcoin as part of their national economies or reject Bitcoin and its risks. Litecoin, which was dubbed as an alternative to Bitcoin, is not performing as well as Bitcoin within the past month, culminating in a so-far failing venture with digital wallet service Abra. Ethereum, one of Bitcoin’s closest competitors, has quickly risen due to its value to customers.

There are countries in the world that think that cryptocurrencies can bring them out of total economic collapse and keep the country afloat. Venezuela, for instance had released its own cryptocurrency, Petro, after its own national currency lost its value. Other struggling nations such as Iran and Turkey are looking to follow suit, but would need enough investment to get the necessary equipment for creating their own cryptocurrencies.

Should you be worried? Do your research, familiarize yourselves with terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, and always proceed with caution.

Even with the possibility of countries going paperless with their currencies, there are some that still fear its effects and have not wholeheartedly embraced cryptocurrencies. Despite the aforementioned efforts from the Indian government to shift to cryptocurrency-based payment methods, the Reserve Bank still finds engaging in cryptocurrencies illegal, to the point of barring banks from engaging in them. Reports of ransomware spreading in the United States, hacking computers used for mining Bitcoin raise security concerns for people investing in Bitcoin.

Should you be worried?

Whether you are currently investing in cryptocurrencies or not, the risks of such virtual currencies will remain to be there as long as other people keep increasing their investments towards them. The value of these cryptocurrencies continue to be unstable to this day, especially with the hype slowly dying down due to people learning more and more about cryptocurrencies and their possible (and real) dangers.

The call for people who wish to invest in these cryptocurrencies is to practice caution. Do some research, get to know more about the terminologies used in the world of cryptocurrencies, look at news reports — with the internet at your disposal, it’s better to know what you’re getting into, should you want to get into it. Anyone who wishes to create their own cryptocurrency might want to start saving up as early as now for all the hardware.

Should you be worried? Yes, to an extent, but it helps to be prepared.

Illustrations by Yanni Panesa

Explainers

What you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink

The much-awaited internet service is coming sooner than later

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Image by GadgetMatch

Over the last few weeks, reports started pouring in about the possible arrival of Starlink internet service to the Philippines under a partnership between Converge ICT and SpaceX. These reports came after a senator’s meeting with representatives of SpaceX discussing the benefits, possible timeline, and requirements needed from the internet service.

These reports quickly became the talk of the town especially with the frenzy surrounding Starlink. You may have heard it before given the media attention it had received in the past. SpaceX — the company behind Starlink — promised fast network speeds and coverage almost anywhere around the planet with its internet service. There’s so much more to that though, so here are the things you need to know.

What is Starlink?

For those out of the loop, Starlink is a satellite internet service provided by SpaceX. SpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk that builds next-gen space exploration technologies. The company is also behind the high-profile launches of reusable rockets as well its plans to bring people to Mars.

Starlink works through a constellation of small satellites. These satellites are placed in low to medium Earth orbit, communicating signals through an array of antennas and lasers. They work in tandem with dedicated ground transceivers to receive from and transmit signals to the satellites. In effect, the internet service relies on satellites instead of physical cables to provide an internet connection to consumers.

Image by GadgetMatch

The technology behind Starlink is not a novel one, with the first satellite internet service dating back to the 1990s. However, most of these services ultimately failed due to logistical constraints and the prohibitive costs involved in setting things up. Granted, there had been few services that have seen some success but their adoption is few and far between. Reducing latency and lowering costs for consumers remain major challenges to many satellite internet providers.

Wanting to improve the whole situation, SpaceX began product development of Starlink in 2015. By 2018, it began testing its satellites which culminated in the launch of operational ones last 2019. Just last year, the company reached a milestone by launching up to 60 satellites at a time. This 2021, it is setting its sights for the global coverage of the populated world. Ultimately, SpaceX aims to put about 42,000 satellites in orbit in the future.

One goal of Starlink is to provide people in remote areas with a fast and reliable internet connection, which means a lot for developing countries like the Philippines.

How do I sign-up for the service?

Right now, the company is offering a limited beta service in the US and Canada. If you live in areas where the service is available, you can go ahead and sign-up for the service on Starlink’s website. Not all who signed up can avail of the service though since they are limiting their users at the moment on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you’re lucky, you may receive an email containing further instructions.

What does it feel like to use the service?

During its beta phase, Starlink claims speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps. Latency — which is also a crucial factor in internet-related tasks such as gaming and streaming — ranges from 20ms to 40ms. These figures are far from the advertised 1Gbps speed, as well as the advertised latency of 25ms to 35ms.

Still, those figures are fast enough for everyday use, especially when compared to other satellite internet services. Those figures are also close to the actual experiences by people participating in the limited beta service. For its part, Starlink promises continued improvement to network speed, latency, and software.

Image by GadgetMatch

At the moment, the cost of signing up for Starlink is much higher than availing of a cable internet connection. The satellite setup kit is reported to cost around US$ 499 (PhP 24,000) while monthly fees start at US$ 99 (PhP 5,000). In comparison, PLDT’s internet plans max out at PhP 6,099 for 300Mbps while Globe’s internet plans max out at PhP 9,499 for 1Gbps.

To get connected, Starlink users must configure their setup kits and download the respective app. Each setup kit consists of the satellite dish, Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables, and a mounting tripod.

A clear view of the sky is also a prerequisite for a stable connection. As a note, weather disturbances can affect the connection between the user and the satellite infrastructure.

Starlink also requires its setup equipment to be stationary at all times. This is unlike cellular networks, which are designed to be mobile. While it offers a “wireless” connection to the internet, it still is “fixed” in the sense that it requires constant communication between the transceiver (the satellite dish) and the orbiting satellites.

When is it really coming to the Philippines?

Recent reports suggest that Starlink is coming soon to the country, but no definitive timeline has been given. Rumors suggested that the service will arrive later in Q3 2021. The most recent development squash any hopes of imminent arrival though, with Converge ICT stating that the partnership is still “premature”.

During the later weeks of February, however, Filipinos who signed up for Starlink started receiving a reservation email. The reservation fee costs around US$ 99 (approximately PhP 5,000) though it is fully refundable too. The email also details a possible coverage of the whole country by 2022. The exact date, however, remains unclear at the moment.

Likewise, the internet service still has many obstacles towards its widespread adoption in the country. The initial cost for would-be subscribers comes to mind. As mentioned, the approximate cost of Starlink hovers at PhP 24,000 with a monthly fee amounting to PhP 5,000. For that cost, you are getting better speeds with local telco offerings.

Despite its high cost, the promise of a fast and reliable internet connection is tempting especially in far-flung areas. Reaching out to these far-flung areas is a major challenge for all local telcos since the necessary physical infrastructure is non-existent or hard to setup.  Starlink could reach these areas easily, providing internet connection to those willing to shell out money.

Are there any other things that I should know about the service?

Starlink has garnered some concerns as well, with most directed towards its potential to cause light pollution. The potential to contribute to light pollution is a particular concern for astronomers. Apparently, Starlink’s satellites are bright enough to leave a trail of light, “photobombing” shots of the night sky. To this end, SpaceX said that it is already working on a solution to amend the problem.

As Starlink continues to push forward, more and more people are hoping to get aboard with the service. After all, a fast and reliable internet connection is still far from reality for many people living in remote areas. Hopefully, the service would come sooner as this will greatly improve the current situation of the internet in the Philippines.

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The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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Your MagSafe Questions Answered

Do you really need it?

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If you’ve ever owned an old MacBook before, you’ll know that those chargers magnetically snap onto place. That particular technology is called the ‘MagSafe’.

After the MacBook Pro touch bar and USB-C overhaul last 2016, everyone thought MagSafe ended for good. Not until they announced the new MagSafe for the iPhone 12 series four years later.

The MagSafe technology might not be new but the implementation for the latest iPhones makes the technology even more usable. Other than the securely-placed phone for wireless charging, there are a plethora of case manufacturers who continuously work on future accessories that support MagSafe existing ecosystem.

But is the Apple MagSafe more than just a gimmick? And do you really need it?

Watch our in-depth Apple MagSafe explainer here.

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