Although the hype around bitcoin and blockchain has not gone unnoticed, distributed ledger technology has not yet been adopted by the mainstream, let alone understood. There is no lack of good ideas around blockchain, but for many entrepreneurs moving beyond promising Powerpoint presentations and action plans to deployment and sustainably growing a customer base is a difficult task.
The first few years of blockchain’s development centred around building its infrastructure, from protocols and wallets to exchanges and communities around a core of crypto-enthusiasts. Financial enterprises soon followed, offering lucrative investment schemes, with ICOs particularly dominating the conversation. But what about the next phase? Is blockchain ready to become a household name, making its mark in an everyday context? What are some blockchain powered services that can be used right now?
Across industries and use cases we can actually already find a number of blockchain services up and running.
Around content creation, for example, there is Steemit, a social media platform which rewards users for sharing impactful content. Blockchain is also already being used for cloud storage services by companies such as Storj and Sia which aid in peer-to-peer file sharing, without the risk of data being compromised or censored. Platforms such as Bitgive and Alice connect charities with donors providing the much needed transparency around how donations are being spent.
While companies such as these are well on their way to providing a solid alternative to traditional players, blockchain’s maturation is most apparent in the financial services sector.
Launched in 2014, Living Room of Satoshi is an Australian company that enables users to pay bills such as electricity and credit card bills, using a wide range of popular digital currencies. As such, LRoS is part of a growing family of enterprises such as Bit Trade, Paid By Coins, IvyPay, Bit2Bill and CoinTree, which make it easier for holders of crypto to liquidate their assets.
Any bill that can be paid using ‘BPAY’ (a widely used electronic payment system in Australia) can be settled through LRoS. While they do not charge any fees, LRoS earns its revenues from the currency spread, which can practically amount to paying around 4-6% on top of the bill. Nevertheless, it’s a good example of how blockchain technology is finding its way into everyday lives.
Another real-world application is provided by bitcoin.travel. Since 2011, they’ve sought to create a comprehensive overview of travel-related services that accept bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and facilitate payments.
Offering flights, hotels and rental car options to its customers and mapping out crypto-friendly brick-and-mortar establishments, bitcoin.travel regularly receives positive press coverage and votes of support from the crypto community for the way in which they promote the use of digital currencies in an everyday context.
As stated by the World Bank, over 70% of emerging micro and small to medium sized businesses lack credit. While not unique, Debitum Network is among a number of platforms that seek to fill that gap and utilise blockchain technology to facilitate loans and investments. Risk assessment, insurance, debt collection, loan applications and investments options are all handled on the blockchain.
Although tied in with its native currency DEB, transactions practically run through fiat currencies ensuring SMEs can actually use the services wherever they are based.
Another company well on its way to disrupt the money transfer industry is Hong Kong-based Bitspark. Along with similar enterprises such as BitPesa (East Africa), Rebit (The Philippines) and CoinsPH (The Philippines), Bitspark was among the first to build a blockchain application around cross-border money transfers. It prides itself on having conducted the world’s first cash-in cash-out bitcoin transaction.
Having integrated its decentralised exchange, mobile app, web platform and a growing number of fiat pegged stablecoins into a comprehensive ecosystem, Bitspark is able to cater to vast populations of both banked and unbanked people to make cash-in cash-out cross-border money transfers easier and cheaper than traditional Money Transfer Operators or banks. Transactions are completed in a matter of seconds instead of hours or days - irrespective of the destination.
Mainstream adoption is not just a matter of convincingly bringing across a good idea, but the outcome of commitment, adaptation and building relationships of trust. While no statements can be made about the future of these companies, it can safely be said that across industries blockchain powered services are taking root and making their way into the everyday lives of end users, from tenants and travellers to small businesses and those working overseas.
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Bitspark is a bankless money transfer ecosystem that enables businesses and people to cash in and cash out cryptocurrencies across Asia and Africa.