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The Disruptor 50

Behind every great disruptor is great infrastructure

Unicorns aren’t so rare — at least not on CNBC’s sixth annual Disruptor 50 list. This year’s top 50 start-ups are changing the world with their innovations, from robotics and nanodegrees to self-driving cars. There are a few familiar names on the list, like SpaceX and Uber, but these forward-thinkers are set to disrupt markets and, in some cases, entire industries.

And while they’re all shaking up the status quo, they have something else in common: they’re reliant on high-performance connectivity and networking infrastructure to support technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

Here are a few of the industries being disrupted by the top 50 disruptors:

Healthcare & Biotech: Several biotech firms made this year’s list, from Veritas Genetics using AI, robotics and edge computing to interpret genome sequencing from all 6.4 million DNA molecules in the body, to 23andMe analyzing data from millions of customers to further research into treatments and cures. These applications require enormous amounts of processing power (in some cases at the edge of the network) to analyze enormous amounts of big data.

Fintech & Cryptocurrency: Fintech firms are using blockchain, machine learning and software-defined securities to shake up the finance industry. One digital currency platform on the list, Coinbase, allows merchants and consumers to complete transactions using new digital currencies, while cryptocurrency brokerage Robinhood allows them to buy and sell cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum without transaction fees. For fintech firms and cryptocurrency brokerages, it’s critical that infrastructure can handle data transactions in real-time, without latency.

Manufacturing & Supply Chains: Several start-ups on the list are using IoT to streamline the supply chain. C3 IoT is producing software that reads data on connected devices so companies can leverage sensor data in supply chain management. And Uptake is using IoT and machine learning to help industrial equipment diagnose itself (if it isn’t working properly or it’s about to break down). Applications that process massive amounts of data from connected sensors and devices are turning to edge computing, where data is collected and analyzed at the edge of the network rather than in a data center or cloud.

Transportation: Self-driving cars are expected to hit the road within the next five years, and ride-sharing disruptors on the list like Uber and Lyft are already experimenting with driverless ride-hailing services. Another on the list, Luminar, is developing lidar technology, which uses pulses of infrared light to help self-driving cars ‘see’ around corners. Not only will these innovations disrupt the transportation industry, they will dramatically impact wireless infrastructure, which will be needed to transmit mass amounts of data in real time for processing on the edge of the network.

These companies have two common denominators: they’re disruptors, and they’re enabled by high-performance connectivity and state-of-the-art communications infrastructure. In fact, the majority of these companies — 70 percent — are powered by Zayo. With the back-end infrastructure to fuel innovations in the areas of IoT, blockchain and artificial intelligence — to name a few — these disruptors are able to do what they do best: disrupt.