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Blockchain, IoT and 5G: a Marriage a Trois

| 07-06-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Long-time Blockchain has been looked at as an isolated technology. Recently however we see a growing trend of blockchain being integrated with other technologies such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence amongst others. An interesting development that can be observed is the growing attention of corporates to use blockchain for IoT or Internet of Things applications. And that is not strange. The IoT market is increasing drastically and this is expected to continue in an accelerated way triggered by the recent uptake of the 5G network. But with this there arise a number of big challenges that may limit its future growth. Blockchain is seen by a growing number of corporates as the technology that could solve a number of these issues. Let’s have a look!

But what is Internet of Things?

IoT or Internet of Things has emerged as a network of internet connected devices. These devices range from simple consumer-devices to heavy industrial machines and may include laptops, smartphones, smart gadgets, smart watches, smart and digitalized vehicles, smart bicycles, medical sensors, smart security systems etc. These IoT devices are integrated with high definition technology like sophisticated chips, sensors, or functional software, that makes it possible for them to communicate or interact over the internet smoothly and exchange information with each other. IoT involves first of all sensing, monitoring, and exchange of data, followed by efficient data storing and processing using technologies like cloud computing. Data is thereby transmitted from the device to the IoT network where the information is managed using analytics and then directed back to the IoT equipment. The analytics capabilities of the IoT use these data to convert insights into action, impacting business processes and leading to new ways of working.

In the meantime the Internet of Things has provided many services in the fields of intelligent transportation, smart cities, medical treatment, smart agriculture and many others. These IoT-based solutions allow the automation of daily tasks and enable effective monitoring and control of the connected devices. This may result in improved efficiency and convenience in performing tasks.

Challenges

The advancements in IoT have popularized the development of 5G-enabled-IoT applications. 5G, the next generation of mobile networks, promises remarkable performance improvements  and is envisaged to broaden IoT’s scope and fields of applicability. Such 5G IoT applications however  pose stringent requirements such as high capacity, assured privacy & security, scalability of heterogeneous applications, ultra-low latency, optimized use of network resources, efficient energy management and low costs.

Since current mobile networks including 5G and also more general IoT systems are based on centralized models they may face big challenges to meet-up the requirements of future 5G-enabled-IoT use cases. With the huge number of devices set to enter IoT networks in the coming years, these centralized arrangements have very restricted scalability, while exposing a large number of vulnerable points that could endanger network security and can become extremely costly and sluggish.

a. Scalability
One of the most crucial difficulties with current 5G IoT networks is that of scalability. IoT relies on centralised cloud-based architecture for their control and management. It would be an urgent task for the centralised cloud servers to scale up their capacity and computing power and handle the massive amounts of data collected by a large network of sensors. With the increasing number of devices and the huge amount of data they are generating, current centralised systems to authenticate, authorise and connect different nodes in a network may become a great bottleneck.

b. Security
Another fundamental problem with current 5G IoT systems that may hinder its large-scale development, is their security architecture. A centralised client-server model managed by a central authority would make it vulnerable to a single point of failure. Many IoT devices have very low security features embedded into them. As a result they may get affected by privacy and security breach, while there is reduced safety for users. That make them an easy target for cyber-criminals to exploit the weak security protection to hack them into launching DDoS attacks.

c. Privacy
Another problem is privacy. The IoT network can process data transactions across multiple devices that are owned and administered by different organisations. This makes it difficult to identify the source of any data leakages in case of a cyberattack. Additionally, the IoT generates a vast amount of data, and with multiple stakeholders involved, the ownership of the data is not always clear. This could potentially undermine the reliability of IoT sensors. Measures to ensure the integrity of IoT devices such that they cannot be altered by external interventions are thus key to securing a safe environment for data recording and transactions.

d. No common standards and protocols
The devices in an IoT network are part of different technology standards with different protocols, making it difficult to build a coherent system. The data generated in the networks have different ownership and are highly noncoherent, hence, hard to trace and audit. Data could either be locked in or may not be inter-operated because of different communication standards and protocols and operating systems.

e. Lack of auditability and control over data sharing/usage
In an IoT network a huge amount of data is generated from devices that are proprietary to several enterprises. It is difficult to manage and audit such data in terms of who owns them, where from are they generated and how can they be processed. Most of the times such data is not under the control of all the intermediate parties involved such as equipment vendors, service providers or users who share a common platform.

Blockchain can be of great help

These  issues have become key in IoT systems and if not solved may aggravate when the increase in IoT products will accelerate. Continuing the use of centralized solutions 5G IoT driven applications will not only struggle to meet the demands but will also adversely affect the projected visions of IoT. To solve these issues blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT) is increasingly seen as a promising solution to help address these challenges in a unified and decentralised way.

Blockchain, can play an important role in how devices will communicate directly between each. Blockchain, as a distributed database system, can record all information about transactions. This fits perfectly into the basic functions and architecture of the IoT. The distributed nature of blockchain allows the industrial entities and various IoT devices to exchange data to and from their peers, eliminating the centralized operational requirement. Blockchain thereby enables users of 5G IoT networks to interact and transact (store and retrieve data) with ensured data provenance and authenticity, accountability, immutability, and non-repudiation for every user. Blockchain can thereby help alleviate the security, privacy and scalability concerns associated with IoT, by building trust, cost reduction and the acceleration of transactions, without relying on central participants.

How will Blockchain bring these benefits for IoT?

a. Immutability
The distributed ledger in a blockchain system is tamper-proof. Each transaction is recorded, put into a data block, and added to a secure, immutable data chain that cannot be changed. No single organisation has control over the vast amount of data generated by IoT devices. This immutability is regarded as a principal strength of blockchain-based smart contracts, as it removes the need for trust among the involved parties.

b. Improved security
Blockchain’s strong protection against data tampering helps prevent a fraudulent device from disrupting synergy of communication systems by injecting or relaying harmful information. Using blockchain to store IoT data would thus add another layer of security that hackers would need to bypass in order to get access to the network. The blockchain technology thereby holds the potential to securely unlock the business and operational values of 5G networks to support common tasks, such as sensing, processing, storing, and communicating information.

c. Transparency
Blockchain also provides transparency, by allowing anyone who is authorised to access the network to track the transactions that happened in the past. Compared to the ordinary database systems in IoT ecosystems the distributed ledger provides capability to transparent record keeping of the events logged, while the ledger is protected against alterations with the utilization of digital signatures. Through transparency of smart contracts, the trust in 5G IoT networks is decentralized. The deployment of smart contracts in IoT makes the nodes trustworthy and compliant in the specific business ecosystem.

d. Guaranteed integrity
Blockchain as well as blockchain-based smart contracts may also ensure the accountability and integrity of IoT related networks. Smart contracts can be defined as software codes enforcing the regulatory criteria and make them transparently available. These contracts entirely depend on transparency and consistent integrity of all member nodes. The much more robust level of encryption provided by blockchain makes it virtually impossible to overwrite existing data records.

e. Accelerated data change
The performance of the entire IoT ecosystem in terms of higher throughput and latency depends on the accelerated operation of data change in the IoT nodes. As the number of interconnected devices grows, blockchain and smart contracts may provide a viable solution as it can enable fast processing of the growing number of transactions and coordination among the huge number of connected devices. The centralized validation of a particular data can be replaced by decentralized validation with the use of smart contracts deployed on the IoT node itself. This may drastically diminish the data validation time, as well as the chances of manipulation or access.

f. Reduced costs
And as a result of all this, the operational costs of an IoT ecosystem can be minimized when  blockchain and smart contracts are utilized. Blockchain and smart contracts can allow IoT companies to reduce their costs by eliminating the processing overheads (deploying expensive high-end computing infrastructure) related to IoT gateways, associated with middlemen and intermediaries.

Applications of Blockchain IoT

Blockchain IoT applications are increasingly used in various sectors like supply chains, transportation and logistics, retail, automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, government, energy and utility. Corporations are thereby focusing on increasing operational efficiency through real-time data management and automation of tasks. Blockchain IoT applications are  thereby used for purposes like process automation, supply chain management, smart cities, smart homes, asset tracking and monitoring, data analytics, data sharing and communication, smart cars, decision analytics, home automation, and smart grids.

Supply chain
Blockchain and smart contracts may be of great added value in the 5G IoT smart  supply chain. Blockchain IoT applications for tracking purposes are especially used by supply chains to track the location of goods as they are shipped, and ensuring that they stay within specified conditions. The blockchain can store, manage, protect and transfer all this smart information, such as the temperatures, position, arrival times, and status of shipping containers as they move. Sensors give companies end-to-end visibility of their supply chain by providing data on the location and condition of the supplies as they are transported around the globe.  Immutable blockchain transactions help ensure that all parties can trust the data and take action to move products quickly and efficiently.

Maintenance
Blockchain IoT asset tracking devices are also used by a lot of businesses for long-range identification of assets and machinery to record activity and output as an alternative to cloud solutions. This is especially important for predictive maintenance modelling. The ability to track components/spare parts that go for instance into an aircraft, automobile, or other products is critical for both safety and regulatory compliance. IoT data stored in shared blockchain ledgers enables all parties to see component provenance throughout a product’s life.  From engines to elevators, blockchain provides for a tamper-free ledger of operational data and the resulting maintenance.

Smart city and smart homes
Blockchain IoT solutions are increasingly being used in smart cities to enable the services such as payments, e-Governance, security, and surveillance of the smart cities. Smart cities are the implementation of advanced modern techniques in the urbanization to improve the quality of human life.

Blockchain IoT solutions also find their way in smart homes, that are intended to automate the entire home environment comprising of home appliances and devices. Blockchain can thereby fuel different use cases such as smart home monitoring, remote accessing, energy optimization, surveillance and so on.

Data Analytics
Blockchain IoT can also be applied to data analytics to investigate different types of data. It can be used by businesses for predictive and descriptive analysis to improve customer knowledge, enhance operational efficiency, and create business value. Businesses are increasingly using Blockchain IoT data analytics to determine trends and patterns by analysing big and small data to extract meaningful insights.

Smart healthcare 
Blockchain IoT has numerous applications in the healthcare industry. The technology can be used to provide high-quality medical services using smart devices. IoT devices can collect health care data, and these data is stored online. They can be accessed anytime by a physician, Blockchain can as a result enable secure and trusted IoT medical automation systems for real-time monitoring, logging privately medical history, sharing securely medical documents and supporting vital data which can help in making clinical decisions.

Smart farming
The concept of smart farming can revolutionize the agriculture industry. Farmers can use smart blockchain IoT farming applications for optimizing a lot of different activities such as determining the best time to harvest plants, as these devices can detect weather conditions and other environmental data. But also creating fertilizer profiles based on the chemistry of soil, and sensing soil nutrients and moisture levels. Blockchain enabled IoT applications for agriculture purposes can help to boost both the quality and quantity of agriculture production,  while minimizing the cost.

Key players in the Blockchain IoT market

A growing number of companies are leveraging blockchain technology to allow any IoT device to securely connect, interact and transact independently of a central authority. Key players include big tech companies like Amazon, Cisco, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and SAP as well as big blockchain platforms such as Ethereum, the Linux Foundation and R3. And a growing number of smaller companies using blockchain to make the Internet of Things safer and smarter have entered (or are entering) the market. Some interesting newcomers:

Ambrosius
Ambrosius is a public permissioned blockchain ecosystem with a large number of decentralized node operators securing the network. The Ambrosus blockchain is optimized for interconnectivity with IoT devices, sensors, existing ERP systems, and other enterprise management software. Ambrosius is used for decentralized applications, securing the Internet of Things, physically tracking real-world assets, and integrating blockchain into enterprise software.

Atonomi
Atonomi is an open platform that encourages third-party development. Atonomi provides IoT developers and manufacturers with an embedded solution to secure devices with blockchain-based immutable registration of identity and reputation tracking. While device identity is recorded and validated on an immutable ledger, device  reputation is calculated and recorded based on monitored transactions. This enables fluid interactions between validated IoT devices, regardless the manufacturer, across the Atonomi trust environment.

Chain of Things
Chain of Things (CoT) is a consortium of technologists and leading blockchain companies. It investigates the best possible use cases where a combination of blockchain and IoT can offer significant benefits to industrial, environmental, and humanitarian applications. So far, CoT has built Maru, an integrated blockchain and IoT hardware solution to solve issues with identity, security, and interoperability.

IOTA
IOTA is a protocol for fast transaction settlement and data integrity, with a Tangle distributed ledger that eliminates the need for expensive mining (validation of transactions). IOTA is an infrastructure for IoT devices that need to process large amounts of micro data. Features of the Tangle ledger are machine-to-machine communication, fee-less micropayments, and quantum resistant data. IOTA has built a sensor data marketplace and is entering the market for data-driven insights, supported by more than 20 global corporations.

Modum.io
Modum.io combines IoT sensors with blockchain technology, providing data integrity for transactions involving physical products. The modem sensors record environmental conditions, such as temperature, that goods are subject to while in transit. When the goods arrive at the next transit point or end customer, the sensor data is verified against predetermined conditions in a smart contract on the blockchain. The contract validates that the conditions meet all of the requirements and triggers various actions such as notifications to sender and receiver, payment, or release of goods.

Xage Security
Xage is the world’s first blockchain-enabled cybersecurity platform for IoT companies. Their technology can manage billions of devices at once and can even self-diagnose and heal possible breaches. Xage is proximality used by IoT companies in the transportation, energy and manufacturing industries.

Blockchain IoT market 2020–2026

An interesting report was recently launched by Markets & Markets, forecasting the development of the global Blockchain IoT market till 2026. Especially the need for IoT security, simplified processes supported with transparency and immutability, and high adoption of blockchain-based IoT solutions using smart contracts and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are expected to surge demand for the blockchain IoT market globally.

Main highlights

  • The global Blockchain IoT market is expected to grow tenfold from USD 258 mio in 2020 to more than USD 2.4 bn by 2026, an average yearly growth of more than 45%.
  • Whereas the hardware segment (including IoT sensors and crypto wallets) showed the highest share up till now, due to growing demand and infrastructure for deploying, developing and managing blockchain applications, software and platforms are forecasted to take the lead.
  • Data security held by far the largest market share in 2020, due to the crypto mechanisms used of the blockchain. The smart contracts segment is expected to be the fastest growing during the forecast period due to the increasing use of blockchain IoT in the construction industry.
  • While the government segment held the largest market share up till now due to the increasing government initiatives and use of blockchain IoT across the many smart city projects, verticals such as supply chain, logistics, automotive, healthcare, manufacturing and construction are also expected to register a high demand for blockchain IoT.
  • The growing adoption of blockchain and IoT technologies across the retail sector is also expected to drive market growth during the forecast period. Retailers increasingly use IoT and blockchain technology to track products in stores, prevent product tampering, and increase security across retail stores.

Final remarks

The expected potential of  the 5G IoT market today is limited by an extremely fragmented IoT ecosystem. Blockchain technology appears as potentially the most suitable and efficient way to the various 5G IoT challenges. For optimising the value of blockchain the creation of common ecosystems with commonly accepted standards and global protocols is thereby of utmost importance. To achieve that, standardized infrastructures, open application programming interfaces (APIs) and collaborations among stakeholders are urgently needed. That means that many stakeholders, even competitors in the same industry, should collaborate and adopt a shared distributed ledger platform with compatible standards protocols enabling users to access all connected applications. If so that would be a great marriage a trois between blockchain, IoT and 5G.

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

ECB and a Digital euro: positive consultation results

03-05-2021 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Last year I wrote a blog on the ECB plans to investigate if one should introduce a Digital euro. They announced to launch a public consultation on the desirability of such a central bank digital currency for the euro zone.

Now we are a half year later and in a comprehensive analysis of the results of this consultation the ECB published the findings of this inquiry that mirrored a rather positive attitude. The report thereby provides important input into the ECB’s analytical and experimental work and into the upcoming decision of the Governing Council on whether (or not) to launch a formal investigation phase in view of the possible issuance of a digital euro as a payment instrument. So nothing has been decided so far!


Why a digital euro?

In that same blog I mentioned the various reasons why central banks all over the world, including the ECB, are investigating the need and viability of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Such as the further digitalisation in the payments world and the continued trend towards a more cashless society. And China’s advancements with their own digital Yuan and the fear that it would become a dominant currency eroding other international used currencies like the dollar and the euro. But also Facebook’s  plan to launch its stable coin named Diem that could be used globally and the big interest of private people and companies to invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether with the danger of crowding out fiat currencies.

According to the ECB these developments may undermine central bank’s control over monetary policy and endanger financial and monetary stability in the EU. So in fact the launch of a Digital euro is increasingly becoming a strategic issue for Europe. EU members like France but also the Netherlands have recently begun experimenting with a Digital euro. But any decision would require intensive cooperation between member states.

ECB Digital euro consultation

The ECB recently released its report on the consultation on a digital euro. The consultation that was launched in October last year, received over 8200 responses. The large majority of respondents were private citizens (94%), of which mostly men between 35 and 54 years old, while the other participants were professionals, including banks, payment service providers, merchants and tech companies. Most responses came from Germany (47%), Italy (15%) and France (11%).

Main findings

The consultation report shows that Europe’s citizens are in favour of a digital euro, but under a number of conditions.

The results show that citizens as well as professionals (esp. merchants and other companies) are in favour of such a development, provided that the Digital euro respects privacy (43%) and confidentiality of transactions and that it is sufficiently secure (18%) to prevent fraud. They also support requirements to avoid illicit activities with fewer than one in ten responses from members of the public showing support for full anonymity.

 

“The record level of participation in our public consultation and the willingness of citizens and professionals to support a digital euro are encouraging. Their responses show the high expectations that prospective users have for a digital euro and provide valuable input for our work.” Fabio Panetta, ECB Board member 

 

According to the document, two in five respondents thought that “Digital euro transactions should be visible to either intermediaries or the central bank, which would effectively allow the application of anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) requirements.” Additionally, one out of ten respondents believes that transfers under a certain threshold should remain private.

 

“A digital euro would therefore allow people to make payments without sharing their data with third parties, other than what is required by regulation. This differs from private payments, where services are generally offered in exchange for personal data that are then used for commercial purposes.” Christine Lagarde, president ECB

 

The respondents also want a Digital euro that is easy to use, without additional costs (9%), and that allows for fast and reliable payments via payment cards and iPhones (8%).

More than two-thirds acknowledge the importance of intermediaries providing innovative services that allow access to a digital euro and indicate that it should be integrated into existing banking and payment systems. They would like additional services provided on top of basic digital euro payments.

Around a quarter of the respondents take the view that a Digital euro should make cross-border payment faster and cheaper. They also want to be able to use the digital euro outside the Eurozone, though with limits.

 

“A digital euro can only be successful if it meets the needs of .Europeans.” “We will do our best to ensure that a digital euro meets the expectations of citizens highlighted in the public consultation”. Fabio Panetta, ECB Board member

Next steps

The feedback is now to be communicated to the European Parliament as well as the Commission and the Council. And it is up to the Euro system – which includes the ECB and central banks of countries that have adopted the euro – to decide whether the project should be launched.

Following the findings of the consultation, the ECB is set to take a decision on starting formal investigation on a Digital euro on whether to commence central bank digital currency trials by the middle of 2021, before a further six months to one year practical trial of the technology.

And if this decision will be a positive and the green light is given, the Digital euro, a complement (not a replacement) to banknotes and coins, could see the light of day in four years from now, according to ECB president Lagarde. She indicated it may be 2025 before any digital currency would be ready.

 

“Because it’s a technical endeavour as well as a fundamental change because we need to make sure that we do it right. We owe it to Europeans, they need to feel safe and secure. The need to know that they are holding a central bank-backed equivalent of a digital banknote. We need to make sure that we’re not going to break any system, but enhance the system”. Christine Lagarde, president ECB

 

The ultimate design of the digital euro lies with the ECB that will take the public consultation into consideration and look into various possibilities, including use of distributed ledger, definition of spending limits, use of a device for transfers and payments, online/offline capabilities, or availability of cross-border transactions outside Europe.

The Dutch positive stands towards the Digital euro

In narrow cooperation with the ECB and the other national banks in the Eurozone, the DNB is also exploring the possibility of issuing a Digital euro in addition to euro banknotes and coins.

In a recently published report, the Dutch Central Bank said it was ‘ready to play a leading role’ with research and development into its own digital currency as well as a Europe-wide digital currency. The Netherlands would be a suitable testing ground, according to the report, being well placed to develop and trial a Digital euro. The Netherlands is the country where the move out of cash is the largest in Europe. Nearly two thirds of all payments in the country are digital.

The main findings of the report

In this report the DNB researched the satisfaction with the current payment system and the willingness to hold a Digital euro account among a representative group of Dutch citizens. The findings are broadly in line with those of the ECBs public consultation.

While citizens are very satisfied with the current payment options, half of the Dutch population would be interested in opening a current account for Digital euros, an electronic form of central bank money that is available for all citizens and businesses – similar to banknotes and coins, but exclusively in digital form. Relating top the amount they would be willing to deposit into a digital euro account, most of the, opted for €101-500.

Main condition is that privacy is well protected, security features should be adequately safeguarded if people want to open such an account and the risk of theft and fraud of their assets is minimized.

Familiarity with the concept of a Digital euro increases people’s willingness to use it as a means of payment. Almost half of Dutch citizens are familiar with the concept, although most people indicated they did not knew exactly what it entails. 53% said they had never heard of it, 33%had heard about it but do not know what it means while 13% knows exactly what it means.

The most frequently cited reason why the Dutch public believe a Digital euro would be useful and could be a reliable complement to cash and existing electronic payment instruments, is that central banks, unlike commercial banks, do not operate on a for-profit base.

Balancing act

While earlier discussions on CBDC were mostly academic, the focus has increasingly turned to the technical aspects and financial and monetary issues. The ECB received many technical suggestions from the respondents. According to a quarter of individual respondents, end-user solutions comprising (smart) cards or a secure element in smartphones would be preferred to facilitate cash-like features. Building a Digital euro for retail payments may require an infrastructure that is interoperable with existing point of sale terminals or with digital platforms

What may it bring?

A Digital euro could bring many benefits to the population as it would grant greater usability, speed and safer payments transactions while it could leverage technology. It could also enhance digital inclusion, facilitate monetary policy implementation, and help protect against frauds and thefts. Being issued by the ECB and supposed to be not more expensive than the use of cash, it would be a cost-efficient payment solution for individuals and businesses with limited interchange fees, if any.

What about the future of commercial banks?

A digital euro however could pose a number of problems in a number of areas. These should be attention points in the further discussion that should be addressed before the release of the Digital euro to ensure the stability of the financial and monetary system.

First of all for banks, what will be there future?  What about the already identifying competition by fin techs and big techs using crypto currencies?

Lagarde raised that certain intermediaries – that is, banks – are apprehensive about what the issuance of this Digital euro may mean for them, noting that they should not be concerned.

 

“We need to also make sure that we are not going to break the system but to enhance the system.” “Those intermediaries will continue to co-exist, to develop their business and conduct their activities with cash which will continue to be available as will digital currency.” Christine Lagarde, president ECB

 

But in an increasingly digitised world banks may increasingly have to ask themselves how they may serve their customers’ future needs and how they can distinct themselves from their competitors.

And what about financial and monetary stability?

And how to avoid in times of financial crisis that a digital euro will “blow a hole” in commercial bank’s balance sheet. Especially in the event that savers would massively transform their deposits in banks into central bank money, in case of economic or financial crisis. This bank run could increase the cost of financing for banks, and in turn the interest rates on bank loans.

Almost half of the respondents of the ECB Consultation mention a need for holding limits, tired remuneration, penalty rates to excess balances or a combination of the two, to manage/control  the amount of digital euro in circulation and prevent a massive flight to digital euros in times of a financial crisis. A similar share of professional respondents agree.

Competition or cooperation?

Another issue is: will CBDCs trigger competition between central banks or cooperation? With the exception of China, most central banks are looking for (some sort of) cooperation. Under the auspices of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the ECB is part of a core group of central banks including the Bank of Canada, Riksbank, the Bank of Japan, the Swiss National Bank, Bank of England (BoE) and the Fed, who are jointly exploring CBDC.

The way forward

The topic of a Digital euro has gained much more public attention in the Netherlands and that is not strange as a much higher proportion of their payments is digital compared to other countries in the Eurozone. But for a Digital euro to get more footing in Europe, what is required is a more in-depth policy debate to be held more broadly across the euro area. This given that it is the Euro system that will decide on the potential introduction of a Digital euro.

If the decision should be taken within the Euro system to experiment with some more concrete type of digital euro the Netherlands said it is ready to play a leading role!

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Blockchain Technology Challenges: new Third-generation solutions

| 09-03-2021 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Notwithstanding the various benefits of blockchain technology, there are still a number of big challenges to overcome before mass adoption can be realised. These range from low scalability to lack of regulation and limited  number of qualified people.

In some of my previous blocks I already went into more detail into these challenges and possible solutions to overcome them. In this blog I will limit myself to the main technological ones including scalability, privacy and interoperability that are limiting its uptake. But above all I will show what third generation solutions have been or are being implemented to tackle the various issues.

A. Scalability

One of the main problems related to blockchain’s technology is scalability, or better said the lack of scale. It refers to the limited rate at which transactions are being processed on blockchain compared to existing methods. Large blockchain networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum are not able to handle as a result of their technological set up. Caps are placed on the number of transactions that can be processed on-chain. This scalability issue is especially a problem for companies that have to process massive transactions and need networks that enable high transaction throughput while maintaining low latency.

Off-chain scaling solutions

For this reason, many view scalability as something to be achieved off-chain, while security and decentralization should be maximized on the blockchain itself. Off-chain scaling refers to approaches that allow for transactions to be executed without overcharging the blockchain. Protocols that plug into the chain allow users to send and receive funds, without the transactions appearing on the main chain.
There are a number of interesting off-chain solutions that are being explored to solve the scalability issue ranging from the implementation of so-called accelerated chips, the use of sidechains and sharding.

Accelerated chips

Accelerated chips could be used to speed up confirmation and transaction times. A forerunner in this is Skynet Core.

Skynet Core

Skynet aims to resolve the issues of blockchain adoption and the functionality of the Internet of Things (IoT). They aim to deliver an end-to-end system that includes a hyper-scalable IoT blockchain network and the licence free blockchain IoT chip named Skynet Core. The project that includes billions of licence free blockchain chips will deploy to devices worldwide, connecting via the Skynet blockchain network.
This blockchain chip can replace an existing CPU and features a core optimized for blockchain technology as well as the Internet of Things. The hardware makes it possible for Skynet Core devices to run blockchain networks with high throughput while providing secure protection from theft of cryptocurrency.  

Side Chains

Another tool to speed up scalability are so-called side chains. A sidechain is a separate blockchain. However, it is not a standalone platform, as it is pegged in some way to the main chain. The main chain and the sidechain are interoperable, meaning that assets can flow freely from one to the other

Side chains are aimed to reduce the load on a given blockchain by sending transactions via these connected sidechains and putting the end state of the transaction on the main blockchain – thereby offloading all the processing of transactions from the main blockchain. There are a number of ways to ensure that funds can be transferred. In some cases, assets are moved from the main chain by being deposited into a special address, and a matching amount is issued on the sidechain. A more straightforward (albeit centralized option) is to send funds to a custodian, who exchanges the deposit for funds on the sidechain.

Next to the first and second generation solutions like Bitcoin’s Lightning network and Ethereum’s Raiden Network, there are a growing number more advanced applications to upgrade scale including AION protocol and Neo’s Trinity.

Sharding

Another scaling solution being worked on is sharding. Main example is the Ethereum Blockchain. Sharding is a way of spreading out the computing and storage workload from a blockchain network into single nodes. This technology divides a blockchain network into many separate areas, called shards, with each shard assigned a small group of nodes to maintain. Each node no longer has to process the entire network’s transactional load. Each node will only maintain the info related to its specific partition or shards, removing the need for all nodes in a network to be apart of a transaction.

Sharding includes transaction sharding and state sharding. Transaction sharding refers to assigning different transactions to different shards. This way, parallel processing becomes possible, leading to high TPS. In contrast, state sharding allows the data state to be stored in different pieces on different nodes. In essence, it means that a single node is only responsible for saving a portion of the ledger.

Multi-layered structure

Another solution to upgrade scale is the use of a multi-layered structure, which is the isolation of transaction processing and data storage. Main projects are Cardano and CPCChain.

Cardano

Cardano (ADA) is the most well-known project which proposes this multi-layered structure. Cardano that can be categorized as a third-generation blockchain (with Bitcoin and Ethereum considered the first and second-generation chains.

Cardano is an open-source and decentralised blockchain project with a layered architecture that is composed of two main elements, the Cardano Settlement Layer (CLS) and the Cardano Computational Layer (CCL), which makes Cardano truly unique. Most other existing blockchain platforms only function with a single layer, which often causes network congestion, slows transactions and drives fees higher.

The settlement layer powers Cardano’s unit of account. This is where peer-to-peer transactions are facilitated, such as the transfer of tokens between users. The settlement layer is responsible for transaction confirmation and the flow of the coin. The computational layer maintains the chain’s security, deploys smart contracts and is programmed to recognize the ID of the data. This layer also serves as a framework that is designed to ensure regulatory compliance with various jurisdictions.

CPCChain

Another promising solution to tackle the scalability issue is CPCChain. CPChain, which is partnered with High Performance Blockchain (HPB), VeChain, Qtum, and ETP Metaverse, intends to build a blockchain-based data platform for next generation IoT systems in combination with distributed storage and encryption computation.

It is aimed to provide the whole process solution from data acquisition, storage, sharing to application, for large-scale distributed IoT systems, enabling high TPS and low transaction latency. CPChain thereby separates its blockchain layer from its application layer, so the blockchain only has to store data IDs (which are on a cloud) rather than the data itself – thereby reducing block sizes.

B. Privacy

Another important challenge to overcome is the privacy issue. Blockchain is built in such a way that all transaction are transparent while its actors can be identified. This is especially a problem for public blockchains, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, where the network ledger is open to anyone and all transactions are transparent – so they can be tracked. This lack of privacy might be an issue for certain types of transactions, for instance in the case of confidential corporate deals.

Protocols

In the meantime several protocols have been developed as alternatives to Bitcoin’s pseudo-anonymity. The three main ones being CoinJoin, Ring Signature and Zero-knowledge proof.

Coinjoin

CoinJoin is the technology used by Dash, developed to introduce a layer of privacy to otherwise public Bitcoin transactions. It is an anonymization strategy that protects the privacy of Bitcoin users when conducting transactions with each other. The protocol requires multiple parties to jointly sign an agreement to mix their coins in a single Bitcoin transaction, making the transaction more difficult to trace. The process is also known as coin mixing.

In the meantime, in order to prevent masternodes from being attacked, Dash introduced Chaining and Blinding, allowing senders to choose multiple masternodes randomly with which to send the transaction. The system enables the mixing of transactions among these master nodes, and transactions appear to be sent by the masternodes and not by the users themselves.

Ring signature

Ring Signature as used by Monero is one of the most famous privacy protocols. A ring signature is a type of digital signature in which a group of possible signers are merged together to produce a distinctive signature that can authorize a transaction. It is composed of the actual signer, who is then combined with non-signers to form a ring. Monero utilizes ring signature technology to protect a user’s privacy in the input side of a transaction by helping the sender mask the origin of a transaction by ensuring that all inputs are indistinguishable from each other.

Because Monero makes use of ring signature technology, it must include a feature that allows for the verification of outputs that are being spent in a ring signature transaction, or else, a user would be able to spend the same transaction output twice i.e. a double-spend. This potential issue is addressed by Monero’s use of key images.

A key image is a cryptographically secure key that is derived from an output transaction being spent, and is made part of every ring signature transaction. This process masks the origin of the transaction, and ensure that all inputs are indistinguishable from each other. Only one key image exists for each transaction output on the Monero blockchain.

On top of the Ring Signature, Monero also utilizes Stealth Address technology to automatically generate one-time addresses for every transaction initiated on the Monero network to ensure the privacy of the recipient. It prevents outputs from being linked to a recipient’s public address. Thanks to Stealth Addresses, this transaction process occurs without publicly linking any transaction to the merchant’s wallet address.

Zero Knowledge Proof

Another solution for blockchain privacy issues, used by Zcash to allow anonymous transactions, is Zero Knowledge proof (ZKP). It is a technique by which a prover can convince the verifier of a fact without revealing the actual content. The technology automatically conceals transaction information, such as sender information, receiver information, and the amounts. Only users who own the private keys of the smart contract being performed have full access to the information. In such cases ZKP can ensure that others only know that a valid transaction has taken place, but no information is available to them about the sender, recipient and type/quantity of asset transferred.

Alternative Methods

At the same time other alternatives are available, such as Permissioned or private blockchain platforms like Quorum, Hyperledger Fabric and Corda, which provide the capability of executing private transactions between two or more participating nodes. This ensures that the transaction details pertaining to the sender and recipient are part of a private ledger and will not be revealed to unauthorized participants.

Or self-Sovereign Identity management platforms that provide the concept of pair-wise decentralized identifiers and verifiable claims that can be presented to third party service providers without revealing all the details of a person or entity and thus protecting privacy

C. Interoperability

While blockchain was conceived as a decentralized technology, individual blockchain networks are not inherently open and are not able to communicate properly to each other. There are a large number of blockchain projects, all of which have different characteristics – such as the type of transactions, hashing algorithms, or consensus models – and which focused on a particular area.

The problem is further deepened by different networks and financial institutions running completely different governance rules, blockchain technology versions and regulatory controls. This has resulted in a series of unconnected blockchain ecosystems operating alongside, but siloed from each other, preventing the industry from reaching its full potential.

Isolated inter-blockchain communication can put a strain to blockchain’s scalability and mainstream adoption. To solve this problem, various new-generation cross-chain technologies that could help different blockchains to interconnect are being explored.

Top Interoperability projects

Most blockchains enable the creation of sidechains, that are blockchains running in parallel to the main blockchain. Next to the more well-known examples of cross-chain communication that are mostly first- or second-generation, like the Bitcoin Lightning Network, or the Raiden Network of Ethereum and the Ripple Interledger Protocol, there is a growing number of interoperability projects that are exploring third-generation solutions such as Cosmos, NeoX and Polkadot blockchain.

Cosmos Blockchain

Cosmos blockchain is an interesting blockchain interoperability project, running on the fault tolerance protocol – Tendermint Byzantine. The blockchain project is aimed to become the hub of many projects  Cosmos blockchain architecture consists of several independent blockchains called Zones, attached to a central blockchain dubbed as the Hub. Zones, which are independent blockchains are plugged into the Cosmos Network. These zones can interact with each other because of the Cosmos Hub and new ones can be connected.

A salient feature of Cosmos is permitting zones to preserve their consensus mechanism. Tendermint Core that enables high-performance as well as consistent and secure Practical  Byzantine Fault Tolerance (PBFT)-like consensus engine, powers each zone in this case.

The cosmos Hub connects blockchain projects to enhance interoperability via the Inter-Blockchain communication protocol. Because of the interconnection, people can send tokens from one zone to another in real time and securely, without engaging the services of a third party. Cosmos blockchain can connect different zones from public to private project thanks to the IBC connection.

NeoX

NeoX is a protocol that implements cross-chain interoperability, to allow multiple participants to exchange assets across different chains and to ensure that all steps in the entire transaction process succeed or fail together. But instead of most protocols NeoX is divided into two parts: cross-chain assets exchange protocol and cross-chain distributed transaction protocol.

Essentially NeoX is the functionality of fusing the concept of Atomic Swaps with Smart Contracts. This means it can allow cross blockchain contract collaboration in a single smart contract. In order to achieve this function, one needs to use NeoContract function to create a contract account for each participant. If other blockchains are not compatible with NeoContract, they can be compatible with NeoX as long as they can provide simple smart contract functionality.

NeoX makes it possible for cross-chain smart contracts where a smart contract can perform different parts on multiple chains, either succeeding or reverting as a whole. This gives excellent possibilities for cross-chain collaborations

Polkadot blockchain

Polkadot blockchain is a high-profile multi-chain technology that is aiming to advance blockchain interoperability. It seeks to enhance the transfer of smart contract data through various blockchains. Polkadot’s ecosystem contains of multiple parachains which are individual blockchains thar differ in characteristics but have become part of the Polkadot environment. In Polkadot blockchain, transactions can be spread over a wide area given the number of chains in the network. All this is done while ensuring high levels of security on dealings. A relay chain is the central connector between these parachains.

Polkadot Blockchain interoperability project seeks to ensure a seamless connection between private chains, public networks, oracles as well as permission less interface. Aim is to enable an internet where independent blockchain solutions will be able to exchange information via a Polkadot relay chain. 

Blockchain Industrial Alliance (BIA): Teaming up

What we also see is that a growing number of these projects are teaming up in order to allow their blockchains to communicate with each other. One main example is the Blockchain Industrial Alliance formed by ICON, AION, and WANChain. This teaming up is aimed at solving the blockchain isolation problem. The Alliance has the shared goal of promoting interconnectivity between the isolated blockchain networks. The Alliance’s main priority is collaborate on research on interchain transactions and communication. The Alliance will focus on developing common industry standards, sharing researching, and protocol architecture. All three blockchain projects that are participating in BIA have the common goal of connecting blockchain protocols.

AION

The AION network is a multi-tier federated blockchain network designed to interconnect the various blockchain entities, making it possible to integrate disparate blockchain systems in multi-tier hub. AION aims to become the common protocol used for these blockchains, enabling more efficient and decentralized systems to be built.

At the core of AION blockchain is a “purpose-built, public, third-generation” blockchain called AION-1,  specifically designed to not only be self-sustaining but connect with other blockchains as well. The AION protocol enables the development of a federated blockchain network, making it possible to seamlessly integrate dissimilar blockchain systems in a multi-tier hub-and-spoke model, similar to the internet. This protocol will enable the transfer of value and data between all AION-compliant blockchains by utilizing bridges.

In essence, AION allows networks to communicate with each other, allowing any DApp to run on any blockchain within the network. On top of that, AION will also allow the participating blockchains to create common chains between them in order to conduct on-chain transactions.

Through AION each participating blockchain will be able to transact with all the chains connected to the ecosystem. Along with solving the interoperability problem, AION also wants to create a system which can work with both private and public blockchains and help in solving scalability. In addition AION helps organizations create blockchains which are interoperable but can have its own unique consensus mechanisms, issuance, and participation.

ICON (ICX)

The second partner is ICON, an  interconnected  blockchain technology and network framework designed to allow independent blockchains to interact with each other. In other words a system of sidechains in order to connect all industry chains to the main network.

ICON is supported through a cryptocurrency token, ICX. Communities are connected to the ICON Network through a decentralized exchange. That allows for the maintenance of a verified ledger shared within the community network itself, allowing participants in a decentralized system to “converge” at a central point. That is done by connecting a community to other communities through the ICON Republic and Citizen Nodes.

WanChain

WANCchain is an online interoperable blockchain solution, with secure multi-party financial platform computing. It relies on a proprietary protocol, the WANBridge model, that allows interconnection of private, public and consortium chains, making it easy to transfer digital assets between different blockchains. The blockchain interoperability solution seeks to rebuild finance by housing all digital assets on one blockchain, aiming to unite the world in isolated digital assets. The current WanBridge model allows for digital assets and data to securely and cheaply be transferred between different ledgers using cross-chain smart contracts.

Based on Ethereum, WanChain enables the deployment of private blockchain smart contract execution aiming to unite the world’s isolated digital assets. Privacy on the blockchain is enhanced by the use of Ring signatures as well as one-time stealth addresses. The Wanchain DeFi ecosystem includes WanSwap and WanLend, as well as several other major products that are now under development such as WanFarm and other DeFi applications. This will allow for much more efficient use of collateral and for WanBridge technology to salescalablyably connect any number of different blockchains.

Forward looking

For blockchain technology to become mainstream and implemented at a larger scale, the bottlenecks current blockchain platforms suffer from – scalability, privacy, and interoperability – need to be addressed. While blockchain technology has undergone rapid improvement since its creation, it’s a relatively young technology and some of the main problems still remain today.

Fortunately, many projects are working on some of the solutions proposed above. As more efficient techniques get invented in the near future these technological barriers will likely be overcome sooner rather than later.

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Bitcoin and Regulation: Towards a Balanced and Coordinated Approach

| 02-03-2021 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, are facing increased regulatory scrutiny, and that is not strange. Warnings from regulatory watchdogs all over the globe have come amid a wildly volatile ride for Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. Bitcoin prices quadrupled in 12 months’ time reaching an all-time high of more than $ 40.000 on 8 January after falling back even below $30.000. This is feeding concerns by financial regulators over the lack of a robust and a clear regulatory framework for this rapid evolving crypto marketplace. Regulators worldwide are sharpening their focus on cryptocurrencies and are increasingly looking for a stable framework of regulations and monitoring.

Issues that come up are: why is regulation of the crypto market needed at all and what should be the best regulatory approach?

Existing regulatory patchwork

Crypto regulation in many countries is still lagging behind whereas crypto’s regulatory puzzle is far from complete. Many jurisdictions have looked into regulating cryptocurrency related operations. Thereby they however have taken different approaches on how to go about regulate these which has led to a regulatory patchwork.

These approaches range from a complete outright ban, to a wait-and see approach how matters would play out, while others have introduced some sort of regulation. Major countries and bodies continued introducing regulation just for one area or aspect of the cryptoasset industry at a time. And areas of crypto asset regulation vary from one nation to another, according to each nation’s priorities and values.

Many major countries haven’t yet introduced specific legislation or regulatory guidance that covers the sector as a whole, while others are taking a step-by-step approach. Looking at the G7 countries, they are in varying stages of implementing cryptocurrency regulation, revising existing laws, and providing more clarity to investors and companies in the space. But that is changing.

But why is crypto regulation needed at all?

There is increasingly conviction amongst regulators worldwide that crypto currencies in some form or another are here to stay and continue to play an increasingly normalised role for investors. So we are well beyond the stage where countries could completely ban crypto currencies or adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

We have reached a point where regulators should step in, motivated by the growing interest in cryptocurrency globally and the inherent risks associated with digital assets because they are largely unregulated. Cryptocurrencies should therefore come on the regulatory radar and be held the same standards as the rest of the financial world.

Main stream adoption

There is increased interest by institutional investors in crypto and expectations are that this will continue, triggered by the growing number of new use cases and wider acceptance by traditional banks and financial institutions. This has attracted a strongly growing number of private investors and as aa result to mainstream adoption.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are increasingly seen as a legitimate hedge against fiat currency weakness and inflation risk, and low returns from traditional safe havens such as sovereign debt. As a result investors are looking more closely at cryptocurrencies. So these cannot be neglected anymore by regulators.

Protection to investors

Though their total market value is still limited compared to fiat currencies Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are described by central banks and regulators not as a currency, but much more as a highly volatile and speculative asset. Cryptocurrencies’ volatility are largely a function of thin market volumes and concentrated holdings, possibly in the hands of a few early-adopters known as ‘whales.’ Retail investors should be protected against too much volatility. Providing a regulatory framework will give protection to investors and stakeholders

Closer interaction with the real world

Another argument for more regulation is that, on an increasing basis, cryptocurrencies are becoming part of the incumbent financial system and are increasingly integrated into the existing financial infrastructure. Cryptocurrencies took a step closer to interacting with the real world in October last year when PayPal announced that its US customers can buy, sell or hold four cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

Combat illegal activity

Because of its cross-border crossing character and the lack of surveillance regulators suspect that these cryptocurrencies can be used for criminal activities like money laundering. How many Bitcoin are from a criminal order is hard to predict. But estimates range from 1 percent to 44 percent. Regulators should therefore provide assurances and impose requirements on operators to follow stringent rules to combat illegal activity.

Changing regulatory attitude

But the attitude of regulators worldwide is changing. Recent developments have triggered officials all over the world, including the G7, ECP president Christine Lagarde and the UK CFA, to express their worries about the unregulated growth of Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies.

The overarching regulatory trend in 2021 will be for governments and regulators to be more favourable towards crypto, increasingly shape crypto into a consumer-friendly and less risky product.

Regulators increasingly recognize that cryptocurrency is here to stay, realizing the true potential of the crypto sector, with their actions being adapted accordingly. They highlighted the need to intensify their work for more stringent robust regulations for cryptocurrencies and create a much improved regulatory landscape to control the crypto markets.

G7 Meeting

At its recent meeting early January the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors reiterated support for their joint statement on digital payments issued in October underlining the need to regulate cryptocurrencies. They discussed ongoing responses to the evolving landscape of crypto assets and other digital assets and national authorities’ work to prevent their use for malign purposes and illicit activities.

ECB President Christine Lagarde

At that same G7 meeting Christine Lagarde, president of the ECBwarned investors about the risk of these cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. She also dismissed Bitcoin’s claim as a currency. According to her there is urgent need to implement legislation relative to cryptocurrencies.

“Bitcoin is a highly speculative asset, which has conducted some funny business and some interesting and totally reprehensible money laundering activity”. Christine Lagarde

UK Financial Conduct Authority

In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), issued a stark warning for consumers and retail investors about high-risk crypto investments and the surge of related scams in the industry. The FCA’s concerns include price volatility, the complexity of products offered and the lack of consumer protection regulation around many of the products. Consumers have no recourse to UK regulators for “cryptocurrency bets that turn sour”.

“If consumers invest in these types of product, they should be prepared to lose all their money.” CFA

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

Crypto regulation will also be a top priority for the Biden team. The Biden Administration is expected to bring a renewed focus on regulation and enforcement of the crypto market. The new US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen – former Federal Reserve Chair – described Bitcoin as a ‘highly speculative’ and not a stable store of value’ when still at the Fed in 2017.

New regulatory initiatives

From a G7 perspective, we already have seen some interesting examples of regulatory initiatives in both the EU and the UK, while the new Biden Administration is certainly coming with their proposals.

European Commission: Markets in Crypto Assets Regulation

The European Commission recently published its first draft for Markets in Crypto Assets or MiCA. A package of legislative proposals for the regulation of crypto-assets, updating certain financial market. The draft regulation should create a clear legal framework for crypto assets and more broadly for Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), providing regulatory clarity for the industry and ensure unified legislation on cryptocurrencies throughout the EU.

It wants to support innovation while also creating a secure and trustworthy framework for cryptocurrencies, with the same level of protection for consumers and investors as for traditional financial products. The legislative process for MICA within the EU will continue before this becomes a definitive regulation. Expectations are that this draft regulation will be finalized in legal texts in 1,5 to 2 years’ time.

Basic principles

MiCA wants to create the same safe framework as the one we already know from classic financial services. This is mirrored in many of the principles that MiCA imposes on issuers and service providers of crypto assets, such as the prohibition of insider trading and market manipulation.

MiCA is primarily creating a new licensing system for crypto asset issuers and service providers at a European level. It provides substantive rules of conduct and many aspects of consumer protection. MiCA is also introducing a new EU-wide passport for operators licensed under the MiCA regime in their own Member State.

Pilot regime for market infrastructures

The European Commission therefor proposed a pilot regime for market infrastructures that wish to try to trade and settle transactions in financial instruments in crypto-asset form. The pilot regime allows for exemptions from existing rules and allows regulators and companies to test innovative solutions utilising blockchains.

For other crypto-assets that do not qualify as “financial instruments” such as utility tokens or payment tokens, the Commission proposed a specific new framework that would replace all other EU rules and national rules currently governing the issuance, trading and storing of such crypto assets. The proposed regulation covers not only entities issuing crypto-assets but also firms providing services around these crypto-assets such as firms operating digital wallets, as well as cryptocurrency exchanges.

UK Treasury: crypto consultation paper

The UK Treasury has launched a consultation paper that details a series of proposals addressing the crypto community. With the consultation, the Treasury is initiating a “regulatory approach to cryptoassets and stablecoins” for 2021. Aim of this consultation paper is to gather feedback from stakeholders concerning the government’s regulatory approach to crypto asset and stablecoins in payments and investment, as well as the use of blockchain or distributed ledger technology in financial markets.

More broadly, the UK intends to take a “staged and proportionate approach” to new crypto asset developments. Underlying the UK approach is a desire to avoid applying “disproportionate or overly burdensome regulation to entities”, particularly where the financial stability risks are low, stressing the importance of a risk-led approach to regulation.

The Treasury expects to collect insights from the “industry and stakeholders” in the crypto sphere until March 21, 2021. Input received will feed into the government’s response, which will include more detail on how the proposed approach may be implemented in law. The legislation would take the form of high-level principles, leaving it for financial regulators to specify detailed requirements through rules or codes of practice.

Focus on stablecoins

The consultation focuses particularly on developing a “sound regulatory environment” for stablecoins, which the U.K. government considers have most “urgent” risks and opportunities. Stable coins could “pose a range of risks to consumers and, depending on their uptake, to the stability of the financial system. It is not proposing to regulate further any other types of cryptoasset for now, except in relation to financial promotions (in relation to which it has already consulted and will report in due course).

This approach stands in stark contrast to the European Commission’s legislative proposals which already include a comprehensive framework to regulate the entire crypto industry (MiCA) as well as a pilot regime for the creation and testing of digital security infrastructure.

Biden Administration

The regulatory landscape took on new uncertainty as a result of the power shift in Washington to President Joe Biden and a Democratically controlled Congress.

The new US President Joe Biden has frozen all federal regulatory proposals from Trump’s Administration, including some controversial proposed rules from former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s on self-hostedcrypto wallets, until his new administration can review them. Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin drew heavy criticism from cryptocurrency insiders with his privacy-hostile regulatory proposals.

President Biden is putting together a team of financial leaders that should provide more clarity and guidelines for crypto regulations, get clear rules for the entire crypto industry and a better coordination between the various agencies like SEC, CFTC and. The new team brings their stated support for reasonable and equally balanced cryptocurrency regulatory model.

Three of Biden’s top-level financial staff members, including Janet Yellen, the new US Treasure and former Fed chair, Gary Gensler, the new head of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and former chair of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and professor Chris Brummer as new chairman of the CFTC  all have a proven understanding of how blockchain and cryptocurrency assets actually work.

Yellen pledged to do a deep review of cryptocurrency markets in collaboration with many other banking and finance regulators, hoping to establish an effective set of rules that limits “malign and illegal activities” while supporting powerful fintech innovations based on blockchain technologies.

What regulatory approach is really needed?

Notwithstanding these new regulatory initiatives, there are still many challenges. At the heart of the legal challenge is how to define cryptocurrencies; as a currency, security on par with stocks and options, tradeable commodity, or a brand new asset class of its own. Settling the thorny issues of legality, taxation, and trading rules will take time, adding to the uncertainty and volatility of the global crypto market.

To be really effective, also given its cross border character, any future regulation asks for both a balanced and above all global approach. Intelligent, well thought-out regulation communicated effectively and uniformly applied can help level the playing field and unleash innovation and further mainstream adoption.

Balanced approach

Providing a balanced regulatory framework should be a necessity for jurisdictions to protect themselves from abuse, while recognising that legal certainty can also be provided through a regulatory regime, which will in turn enable the sector to flourish. Just looking at cryptocurrencies for regulatory purposes may frustrate the underlying technology and its innovative character. The real value in cryptocurrencies is not the currency itself but the potentially disruptive technology that makes them possible, which has the potential to drive innovations. Next to that, because with cryptocurrencies, the technology behind it may develop at a space that is much faster than regulations develop, any regulation would need to be capable of continuous development.

Global coordinated approach

Global regulation continues to be top of mind at the recent G7 meeting. ECB president Lagarde also emphasized the need for countries to work together to regulate Bitcoin. Instead of competing in terms of who can provide the most attractive regulatory regime for the crypto industry, as we have seen in the past, more global regulatory cooperation and coordination and multilateral action is urgently needed. As cryptocurrencies move further into the mainstream, Lagarde therefore called for regulations of Bitcoin and other currencies to be agreed “at a global level”, potentially at the G7 or G20 groups of rich countries.

We are not there yet!

If done in this way, such balanced and coordinated regulation will help protect investors, enable growing competition, tackle cryptocurrency criminality, reduce the potential possibility of disrupting global financial stability stimulate continued innovation.

Looking at these recent regulatory initiatives, one may conclude that there are still big differences in each approaches. The European Commission proposals are the nearest to become effective meeting both the requirements of balance and overall and unified approach in the EU countries. In the UK, whilst new regulations have been introduced, they are still largely behind all the new developments happening in the crypto space. And for the US we still have to wait till the Biden Administration is coming into action. We are not there yet!

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Ripple Blockchain and Payments Report 2020: from rippling to spreading out

| 11-11-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Ripple, the blockchain payments platform, recently launched its third annual “Blockchain in Payments Report 2020: From Adoption to Growth”. The survey that was conducted in the August-September period this year amongst 854 respondents from payment services providers in 22 countries gives us some interesting and positive insights in the global adoption of blockchain-based payments and digital assets. Ripple believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated positive change in the global payments industry towards accepting blockchain technology.

Present challenges in payments

The respondents in the survey highlighted blockchain’s increasing role in payments. They are nowadays confronted with a number of challenges limiting their growth possibilities, including finding international partnerships, pre-funding accounts, accessing working capital, and building payment technology. According to the respondents blockchain technology could be the solution that would enable payment providers to overcome these challenges.

State of Adoption

The report found that the blockchain industry is in its final phase of adoption. Survey results show that the majority of the survey respondents are adopting blockchain for production use. It shows that 34% of participants are in the production of some solution with blockchain technology. 24% of the participants expect to complete production and move on to a pilot test and a proof-of-concept (POC) within the next two years. The rate of adoption across business types differs slightly, with digital banking/fintech businesses leading. They are followed closely by retail banks, and money transmitter or payment providers.

In emerging markets, 37% of participants are in production to implement blockchain technology. Asia and the Pacific (APAC) is thereby the leading region with 41%, followed by Latin America (LATAM). Emerging markets are recognizing that responsible usage of blockchain and digital assets can “unleash tremendous potential for their economy”. Both will drive greater financial inclusion and economic growth. Mature markets stand to benefit as well.

Use Cases

Of the respondents 59% is in production or near production for blockchain-based payments related use cases. Slightly over one-third of the report’s respondents currently use blockchain technologies for sending or receiving payments for customers.

But a key point revealed by the Ripple report is the diversification in use cases by companies using this technology. The survey showed that blockchain is now scaling beyond just payments. 98% of respondents running a payments blockchain POC have also deployed the technology for non-payments use cases – the most common ones being supply chain management (62% in production) and trade finance (51% in production). This demonstrates that blockchain can be leveraged across the enterprise.

Cross border Payments

Blockchain technology is not just adopted for in-country uses. As blockchain payments solutions continue to solve for many of the pain points related to cross-border payments, adoption has steadily grown. In fact, real-time settlement for cross-border payments is seen as a business necessity for many, as well as in demand by consumers and businesses.

Digital Assets

Another key finding in the report is that digital assets are increasingly being considered for facilitating payments, especially when connected with blockchain technology. As there has been an increase in education and blockchain experience in the industry, both payment providers and consumer confidence in digital assets have risen. Business interest in digital assets has grown sharply as early adopters look to increase the speed in payment settlements. Across the board, the report found openness to more digital asset types whereby various whereby  cryptocurrencies, as well central bank digital currency and stablecoins were considered. Almost all respondents (99%) said that their respective institutions would consider using digital assets to instantly process cross-border payments or as a medium of exchange (up from 94% recorded in 2018).

“Companies view digital assets as a means to accelerate expansion to other countries and currencies. Interestingly, 82% of respondents not yet in pilot or proof-of-concept responded with the second highest interest in leveraging digital assets in cross border payments. Early adopters recorded the highest interest. Respondents are seeing the success of early adopters and looking to kick start their own adoption—with a large majority open to leveraging more digital forms of currency.” Ripple Report

For those making cross-border payments using digital assets, financial inclusion, reduced cash usage and availablity of liquidity are strengths that rank relatively high as well, but still below the transaction features of speed and security that make blockchain so popular for domestic payments.

What is driving adoption?

There were four key benefits mentioned driving blockchain adoption, namely, improved data quality, increased data security, cost savings, and business growth.

For digitally-led businesses, transparency, security and networking are key benefits of adopting digital assets in payments. Those who are not digitally-led especially value factors like speed. Many of these institutions surveyed adopted blockchain technology to increase speed to make cross-border payment transactions (40%), achieve high levels of reliability (27%), improve data transparency and realize long-term operational cost savings (32%). Interestingly, respondents from Latin America stood out by ranking growth as the highest benefit, followed by cost-savings, whereas more mature markets ranked cost savings and data transparency as the greatest benefit of blockchain adoption. Other key contributors to the success of blockchain are a variety of blockchain technology providers that are facilitating easier implementation through APIs, hosted services, and standardization.

Growth drivers

Ripple’s report identified that blockchain adoption is key to successful growth strategies for financial institutions. Nearly half of the respondents have said that they view blockchain technology as the fuel for business growth. Nearly four out of five (79%) of blockchain-based payment businesses reported growth in 2020, despite the impact of COVID. Blockchain solutions continue to scale as businesses introduce new services to existing customer segments or expand existing services into new regions. 44 percent of respondents have said that they have recorded strong business growth in the past year, citing innovation in payment tech as a key growth driver.

Early adopters of blockchain-based payment solutions have witnessed the highest levels of growth year over year. In the past 12 months, early blockchain adopters reported nearly twice as much business growth over other respondents. 45% of survey participants that were processing digital transactions, recorded a large amount of growth. The market opportunity for innovators in fintech/retail banks and those located in emerging markets is quite significant with expectations of strong, continued growth. First movers in blockchain payment adoption and less mature markets are likely to see the most growth going forward according to the report.

Obstacles/Barriers

Among the main obstacles to blockchain adoption, participants mentioned a lack of regulatory clarity, the amount of investment required to implement the technology, and security. This year, the report also revealed that price swings experienced by the top two digital assets (Bitcoin and Ether) influenced respondents’ perception of volatility, which posed an issue. However, the results show that digital assets are increasingly becoming an important part of the development of the blockchain industry especially in emerging markets. Less than half of the respondents in Latin-America and APAC worry about price volatility, possibly these regions use digital assets as a hedge against their own local fiat currency.

Forward Thinking

“What the Blockchain in Payments 2020 report makes abundantly clear is that blockchain is no longer an exotic, emerging technology. It is a mature technology that is being battle-tested and continues to advance, both in terms of use cases and adoption. And if 2020 is any indication, blockchain will play an increasingly vital role in payments in the years to come.” Ripple Report

What is also clear is that blockchain proof of concepts (POC) are becoming a thing of the past. Today, blockchain initiatives are “leap frogging into production, moving swiftly along the adoption curve towards the late majority phase”. Not only is growth indeed possible for blockchain and digital assets initiatives, but familiarity and positive sentiment continue to spread as well, accelerating the adoption growth path.

Ripple is also spreading out!

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

Smart working with blockchain-based smart contracts

| 12-10-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Smart contracts are one of the most popular and talked about subjects being built in the blockchain industry. As processes are increasingly digitalised, it is becoming necessary to find a way to make reliable, digital business agreements. Smart contracts are a great alternative for replacing traditional contracts, that are often complex, slow and expensive.

Smart contracts are gaining widespread use and ease of creation. Today, smart contracts are available to optimize many financial and business processes, thanks to the contribution of blockchain consortia such as Hyperledger.

This blog discusses some of the current opportunities and challenges facing the adoption of smart contracts.

What are smart contracts?

A smart contract is a self-executing, self-enforcing protocol which is governed by its explicit terms and conditions, which stores and carries out contractual clauses via blockchain.

To enter into a blockchain based smart contract, the parties first negotiate and agree to the terms of the agreement before memorialising the terms (either in part or entirely) in smart contract code that are stored inside the blockchain.

Smart contracts allow the performance of dependable transactions without the engagement of third parties. It is a decentralised method, which means that intermediaries at the moment of confirming deals are not required.

Smart contracts automatically execute when predetermined terms and conditions are met, based on the rules it was programmed to do.

Smart Contract Key parts

Smart contracts consist of a number of essential parts: signatories, subject and specific terms. First of all the signatories i.e. two or more parties that use the smart contract and give their final ‘go forward’ regarding the proposed terms via their digital signature. Second the agreement’s subject itself that is limited only within the smart contract’s environment. Third the specific terms of the smart contract. They have to be described in detailed mathematical terms and implemented in a programming language that is compatible with the smart contract’s blockchain. Based on these terms, the contract will execute itself.

Smart Contracts and Blockchain

The key to these contracts is the decentralised network known as blockchain. Smart contracts use blockchain technology to verify, validate, capture and enforce agreed-upon terms between multiple parties.

Smart contracts on the blockchain allow for transactions and agreements to be carried out among anonymous parties without the need for a central entity, external enforcement, or legal system. The transactions are transparent, irreversible, and traceable.

Blockchain is the perfect environment for smart contracts, as all the data stored is immutable and secure. The data of a smart contract is encrypted and exist on a ledger, meaning that the information recorded in the blocks can never be lost, modified, or deleted.

Where could smart contracts be used?

Smart contracts can be used to perform functions in a great variety of industries. Whether regulatory compliance, contractual enforceability, cross-border financial transactions, property ownership, home buying, supply management, material provenance, document management and many other applications.

Today, smart contracts are relevant in areas such as trade in digital financial assets with legal transfer of ownership, banking and credit services, logistics processes, tracking the origin and path of goods, decentralized storage, and use of renewable energy.

Supply chain management
An area where smart contracts could be used is in supply chain management. Making supply chains more transparent via smart contracts is helping to smooth out the movement of goods and restore trust in trade. Smart contracts can record ownership rights as items move through the supply chain, confirming who is responsible for the product at any given time. The finished product can be verified at each stage of the delivery process until it reaches the customer.

Insurance
Smart contracts could also be used in the insurance sector. This sector nowadays lack automated administration. It can take months for an insurance claim to be processed and paid. Smart contracts can simplify and streamline the process by automatically triggering a claim when certain events occur. Specific details could thereby be recorded on the blockchain in order to determine the exact amount of compensation.

Mortgage loans
Smart contracts could also simplify the mortgage process. The terms of a mortgage agreement are based on an assessment of the mortgagee’s income, expenditures, credit score and other circumstances. The need to carry out these checks, often through third parties, can make the process lengthy and complicated for both the lender and the mortgagee. By cutting out the middle men, parties could deal directly with each other.

Financial industry
The most widespread use of smart contracts remains in the financial industry, as money and accompanying documents become electronic. In the financial services sector  the opportunities for smart contracts include, for example, payment processing, clearing/settlement of financial instruments, trade finance, as well as regulatory technology such as streamlined ‘know your customer’ certification.

Smart contract platforms

There are nowadays a number of smart contract platforms. They could be subdivided on the basis of technology, end-user (banking, government, supply chain, real estate, insurance etc.) and region (Europe, North America, Asia or rest of the world oriented).

Their differences are in programming languages, blockchain consensus, the cost of maintaining an application’s smart contracts, differences in blockchain security, transaction confirmation speed, trust in the main network nodes, and much more.

Ethereum was the first blockchain platform to develop codes specially made for dApp development. Their appearance has prompted the arrival of many other platforms including names like Aeternity, Cardano, Qtum, Stellar, and Waves.

Ethereum
Ethereum, the well-known global blockchain platform was the first to introduce smart contracts to a more wide-spread crypto community. Ethereum is still the most advanced platform for coding and processing of smart contracts. This open-source platform has one of the largest networks of developers available, and due to this, it can keep up with the continually changing environment in the blockchain industry.

Aeternity
Using a hybrid of Proof-of-Work and Proof-of-Stake model, Aeternity offers a method for powering so-called Turing-complete smart contracts that are capable of being executed off-chain. Thereby they deliver both privacy and security.

Cardano
Cardano is a decentralised blockchain and cryptocurrency project. Like many crypto projects, Cardano is open source. The Cardano platform is working towards implementing smart contract functionality with the Goguen update this year. This should bring their smart contracts a step further to ‘smarter contracts’.

Qtum
Qtum is an open-sourced blockchain application platform, where security and flexibility are two of the most essential components. The Qtum team has worked intensively to assure that smart contracts can be executed safely, making the platform perfect for businesses and their enterprise clients. Qtum uses Proof-of-Stake and a Decentralized Governance Protocol.

Stellar
Stellar, unlike many crypto coins, was created by developers for developers. That means that it is capable of handling extremely complex smart contracts. For simple smart contracts, Stellar offers a clean, easy-to-use alternative for developers that want to build smart contracts delivering greater efficiency.

Waves
Waves is an open blockchain project, strongly focusing on dApps and using Web 3.0 technology. To keep their smart contract project simple, Waves offers many online courses, and other methods of support for developers that may want to work with Waves. Like many smart contract projects, Waves uses Proof-of-Stake.

Benefits of Smart Contracts

Smart contracts provide many benefits over traditional contracts for a wide range of industries. In theory, they are more efficient and trustworthy than traditional contract law, and are also thought to offer better security as all actions are recorded and verified. As a result they may reduce unnecessary costs and time expenditure while enhancing transparency.

Greater efficiency and speed
Smart contracts are able to improve the efficiency and speed with which commercial arrangements are carried out.  Smart contracts are automated so there is no need to spend a lot of time on the paperwork and also correcting the errors that are manually written in the documents. They can be executed in minutes, for a fraction of the cost, from wherever the involved parties are, and without the need for lawyers.

Accuracy and transparency
As the codified terms are fully visible and accessible to all relevant parties, there is no way to dispute them once the smart contract is established.  This facilities complete transactional transparency and may removes the likelihood of manipulation, bias or error. This, in turn leads to decreased monitoring costs and risks of opportunistic behaviour.

Trust
Smart contracts may provide parties with a degree of trust. They automatically perform transactions following predetermined laws, and the encrypted documents of these transactions are distributed over participants. The information on the contract and the terms of the contract is straight. Specific validation by everyone and the immutability of the work guarantee that the smart contract can never more be broken.

Security
Smart contracts are also thought to offer better security as all actions are recorded and verified. Blockchain transaction documents are encrypted. That makes them extremely difficult to hack. Security features can also be integrated into a smart contract to automatically generate backups and duplicates in the event of damages, data losses to the original one or hacks.

Challenges

Smart contracts could also bring a number of challenges that may prevent more massive adoption.

Human errors
Like paper contracts, smart contracts could still experience fraud, because of human errors. Smart contracts are codes, and these codes are written by people (coders). As such, there is a (high) chance of a smart contract code having many bugs. They can be delayed, intercepted and corrupted. Some mistakes have proven to be very costly.

Confidentiality, security and privacy
Unlike traditional contracts, all transactions executed via a smart contract, are propagated across all of the nodes in the network.

This may create privacy issues, particularly when the accounts of the parties are associated with known entities. Even when the parties rely on pseudonymous accounts, certain identification techniques can be used to discern the identities of parties who transact with a particular smart contract.

Lack of engineering experience
As smart contracts begin to proliferate, there will be a need for new types of cryptography experts, and forensics experts, to verify software code and to translate the code into human-readable form. A lot of engineering expertise is required to make perfectly operational smart contracts. Experienced coders however are hard to find, and costly.

 Legal and regulatory challenges

There are also a number of legal and regulatory challenges, which are preventing the more widespread utilisation of smart contracts.  Smart contracts lack a clear legal status. There is no official government regulation that applies to them.

Interpretation and enforceability
If there is a dispute about whether a smart contract accurately memorialised the parties’ intentions or whether one party has breached the contract, the parties may still bring legal proceedings or engage in alternative dispute resolution processes.  As contract law varies between different jurisdictions, so too will the enforceability of smart contracts.

Jurisdictional issues
Smart contracts also raise jurisdictional issues. Because blockchain operates as a decentralised ledger, smart contracts can be formed and accessed anywhere across the globe.  They do not reside in any one location, but exist across multiple locations at the one time.

Yet existing laws are jurisdiction-based. The differences in laws across jurisdictions can be highly problematic, and may result in incongruent rights and responsibilities, and confusion regarding the consequences if there is a contract violation.

What steps are needed?

Comprehensive/clear picture of business/operational practices
Vague contracts allow space for argument. This can lead to claims, disputes, high legal expenses, project and operational delays, as well as invoicing and payment delays. To prevent these situations (as much as possible) a comprehensive and clear picture of the business and operational practices for involved parties is necessary when defining and agreeing on terms in order to automate contracts. Participants need to agree on “specific data,” which may include the exact time zone to be used along with the specific time, the location and what that means for contractual terms and fulfilment. Legal departments drafting contracts need to consider details like this in advance.  

Creating Logic Parameters
Parties should also ask themselves a number of questions. What data source will the companies use for their contract? And what are the tolerances? Furthermore, what type of rounding will the smart contract act on? These types of questions must be discussed prior to translation for smart contract codification.

Legal contracts must contain terms on parameters including sources, tolerances, frequency and time frames of data capture methods among others. Specificities such as location, time, and rounding decisions inform logic parameters around data. These impact how contracts translate into code. Incongruent readings can’t be automated.

Clear, non-conflicted contract terms
Problems may arise when an older contract that is used as a starting point has irrelevant or inapplicable clauses that have been forgotten to be removed. This may result in terms and conditions that are either disparate or contradictory. The code of a smart contract cannot be made to execute contradictory terms.

Smart contracts execute exactly what they are programmed to execute and are incapable of judgment. Rules of engagement, particularly those regarding fee calculations and billing practices, must be able to be encoded from clear, non-conflicted contract terms.

Anticipating Data Glitches and Gaps
There will always be technology glitches and failures that may result in data gaps or errors. These occasions can be reasonably anticipated and protocol for them can be incorporated into both natural language and smart contracts.

With agreed-upon terms for these events, a smart contract can be programmed to navigate data tolerances and triggers that automatically recognize when a glitch or failure has occurred. It can then execute the correct predefined action, agreed upon upfront by both parties resulting in zero delays or downtime to the relationship.

Going forward

The potential market for smart contracts is great. Smart contracts can actually change the way agreements are made across various industries.

It however will take some time and require more development before it reaches its mainstream approach. We cannot implement smart contract technology en-masse, as more experimentation is needed at this point. At the moment, smart contracts are still a technology in its early stages. And existing challenges esp. the legal and regulatory ones should be solved first.

That asks for smart thinking|

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

Blockchain becomes a reality: growing adoption

| 23-09-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Early July I wrote my blog Blockchain and Interoperability: key to mass adoption. There I concluded that “we may say that blockchain seems to be at the threshold of widespread acceptance and adoption”.

This conclusion was confirmed by Deloitte’s Third ‘Global Blockchain Survey 2020’ studying the investment and development trends in blockchain technology. This Survey showed that attitudes toward blockchain have obviously, and measurably, shifted in a positive way. It showed progress in the adoption and implementation of real-world blockchain solutions across a variety of businesses and sectors. Organizations have increased their investments, demonstrating their commitment to blockchain technology. But what about COVID-19?

Deloitte 2020 Global Blockchain Survey

Deloitte’s 2020 Global Blockchain Survey shows the results of a poll amongst almost 1500 senior executives and practitioners from 14 countries that was conducted between February 6 and March 3 this year. Those interviewed had at least a “broad understanding of blockchain, digital assets, and distributed ledger technology (DLT)”.

Main findings

The Survey observed a change in attitudes towards blockchain, with more positive feedback. One of the main conclusions was that blockchain is “solidly entrenched in the strategic thinking of organisations”.

According to the Survey “organizations appear to be more committed than ever” to blockchain. Compared to Deloitte’s 2019 Global Blockchain Survey, there was a significant increase in the interest and implementation of blockchain across businesses. This is further confirming blockchain’s maturity as a valid solution for many institutions and enterprises.

Blockchain already is an integral and vital tool upon which—and with which—new, innovative solutions are being created, and the Survey shows confidence amongst respondents that blockchain solutions will gain even greater traction within the global business community over the next 12 to 24 months.

General consensus, as a key takeaway from the report, was around acceptance of blockchain’s scalability, which continues to increase. 88% believe blockchain is highly scalable and will eventually become mainstream.

Strategic priority for organisations

But let’s look somewhat deeper into the various results. One of the main conclusions is that blockchain technology is increasingly becoming a true strategic priority for organisations. This was affirmed by 55% (2019: 53%) of respondents saying blockchain is critical and in their top-five strategic priorities, with 66% of executives forecasting investments of $1million or more in the next 12 months.

More than four in five respondents (83%) in the Deloitte Survey believe they will lose competitive advantage if they don’t adopt blockchain (2019: 77%). 63% said it was vital to move forward in the blockchain space.

Blockchain initiatives: real-world use cases

In terms of applications, increased advances of large-scale blockchain initiatives are occurring, such as blockchain-based financial infrastructure to simplify global money movement and commerce, as well as distributed ledger technology (DLT) for trade finance and blockchain track-and-trace platforms, among others.

The Survey also revealed increased blockchain initiatives in daily processes. These smaller-scale examples of blockchain adoption, such as title transfer and protection, patient data storage and retrieval, and more efficient voting or food sourcing tracking are “proving to be just as transformational in the way people live and the way work gets done”, according to the Survey.

Adoption of blockchain-based solutions

Adoption of blockchain-based solutions is increasing across organisations, with technology, media and telecommunications (TMT), financial services and non-food manufacturing industries leading the trend.

The number of companies around the globe now driving to intensify their blockchain (and digital asset) integration is speeding up according to the recent Survey. As to what drove them to innovation, 86% of respondents cited their executive teams saying that there are compelling business cases for the use of this technology.

This year, almost twice as many firms surveyed have integrated blockchain solutions compared to 2019. The Survey discovered that 39% of respondents had already implemented blockchain into their operations (2019: 23%), clearly showing this technology is gaining traction. The production figure was even higher at 46% for organizations with more than $1 billion in revenues.

When it comes to preparations for a blockchain-based future, 82% of respondents said they are already hiring new staff with blockchain expertise or plan to do so within the next 12 months (2019: 73%).

Where are corporations using blockchain?

According to the Survey, the top five use-cases for blockchain mentioned by the respondents include digital currencies (33%), data access and sharing (32%), data reconciliation (31%), identity protection (31%), and payments (30%), while track- and trace and asset protection, were adopted by between 27% and 33% of respondents.

Proliferation of digital assets

An interesting part of the Survey is the growing acceptance of digital assets. The Survey unveils the growing role and evolution of digital assets in the near future. 70% of respondents consider the pace of regulatory changes for blockchain and digital asset solutions as very or somewhat fast.

“Digital assets are now enabling enhanced commercialisation models across industries and geographies.” Deloitte Survey

Nearly 89 per cent of those surveyed believe that digital assets will be very or somewhat important to their industries in the next three years.

“Our survey confirms what we see in the marketplace — a proliferation of digital assets used as a means of exchange, a store of value, digital representations of specific assets, or equity in a company,” Rob Massey, partner, global and US tax leader for blockchain and digital assets, Deloitte Tax LLP

Digital assets can be used for a variety of purposes. Respondents who considered digital assets in their business models were most focused on enterprise controlled (64%) followed by general asset-backed (63%), while cryptocurrency comes at number three, with 59%.

A majority of respondents from each country, 83% of the respondents (and even 94% in China) said they strongly (or somewhat) believe digital assets will serve as an alternative to, or even replacement for, fiat currencies in the next five to ten years.

“While our survey revealed great faith in digital assets’ future importance, it shows no clear or specific consensus about exactly how those assets will be used or the specific role they will play—a kind of incoherence that we have seen in blockchain use cases in the past and today,” Survey

A vast majority of respondents expressed confidence that they will meet their regulatory burdens. Some 80% claimed to be very or somewhat prepared to deal with the regulatory aspects of digital assets (KYC, Tax, GAAP/FAS, etc.).

Other areas

The Survey also deep-dived into the issues of global digital identity and consortia and governances.

The Survey explored the use of global digital identity. 90 % of respondents believe global identity will be very or somewhat important in their future blockchain and digital assets strategies. Among the applications of digital identity, global financial transactions (29%) and data privacy (27%) stand to benefit the most.

The 2020 Survey studied the issues faced by enterprises when joining a consortium. It revealed leadership perspectives around joining consortia and an increased understanding of the benefits of consortia to help address regulatory and other complexities of implementing blockchain.

These same leaders thereby shared concerns about how consortia are run, how decisions are made, and how profits are shared across memberships. The most prominent challenges for 41% of the respondents of joining a consortium were the inability or incompetence  to create fair and balanced governance rules and poorly defined roles and responsibilities of members.

These concerns can be exacerbated further based on geographic, namely cross border, and industry-specific governance.  I described that in detail in one of my earlier blogs “Blockchain consortia need good governance: but how?”.

Blockchain and the regions

While global adoption has increased, blockchain adoption proved to be uneven in different countries. Countries’ averages are varying wildly whereby China turned out to be one of the biggest supporters of blockchain and digital assets.

While in China 59% of the respondents stated that their companies have already incorporated blockchain into production, this figure is almost twice as small (31%) in the US. The APAC region stood at 53%. Other countries are also outpacing America in terms of blockchain integration. Throughout the European Union including the United Kingdom, blockchain is witnessed as a matter of priority with multiple approaches.

Countries worldwide also follow multiple approaches. Asia Pacific responses revealed a widespread recognition of blockchain’s strategic value, while China expressed concerns over cross-border implications. Germany exhibited substantial activity around crypto regulation.

The UK market is seeing ongoing and increasingly mature activity across key sectors with several substantial projects now live, typically among industries reliant on complex, multiparty, and international supply chains. UAE is evolving as a digital assets hub with a consistently growing ecosystem. While Israel is emerging as a leader in blockchain innovation.

Sceptics

However, sceptics about blockchain remain. It is important to note that 54% of respondents said that blockchain is overhyped, compared to last year’s 43%. This has all to do with remaining barriers. The respondents claim there are still a number of organisation or project barriers that prevent them from adopting and implementing blockchain.

According to the Survey the top barriers of blockchain adoption include: implementation: replacing or adapting an existing legacy system (35%), concerns over sensitivity of proprietary information (34%), potential security threats (34%) an lack of regulatory clarity.

As companies develop use cases and adopt digital assets, the most significant problem areas are new tax and regulatory compliance structures. A patchwork approach, different regulatory treatments, or improperly defined parameters could threaten the underlying advantages of these blockchain solutions. But companies are not impressed by this, and some 80% claimed they were prepared to deal with regulatory aspects of digital assets.

Along with regulatory uncertainty, 58% of respondents said cybersecurity was also impacting their blockchain and digital asset strategy. Meanwhile, 21% said cybersecurity was the only hindrance to advancing their strategy.

But what about the impact of COVID-19?

According to the KPMG COVID-19 Survey that was published in August, blockchain investments fell by 63% because of COVID-19. The report compiled by KMPG International and HFS Research, is drawing on a survey of 900 technology executives from different organizations on the Forbes Global 2000 list of the largest companies in the public that have more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

According to the report roughly 40% of the executives indicated that they had moved to entirely cease investment into the emerging technology initiatives. Distributed ledger technologies (DLT) slid from the largest emerging technology sector with an average investment of $18 million in March/April,  to the second smallest with $6.5 million in May/June.

7% of the executives said COVID-19 had significantly changed strategic priorities for emerging technologies. In the earlier survey, the priorities were cost reduction and improved brand value. Since May/June, emerging technologies are now assessed based on survival.

The report also found that 59% of the executives believe that the pandemic created an impetus to accelerate digitization initiatives. After the heavy funding cuts for blockchain that occurred in 2020, global companies are looking forward to the technology as a way to regain a competitive advantage in the business landscape after the Corona crisis. They predicted that blockchain will be one of the five emerging technology sectors that will see increased investments from enterprises over the next 12 months.

Blockchain won’t be cut across the board. Projects that are close to production or already live are less likely to be put on hold if they can show reasonably quick returns. Blockchain tools that can help improve a company’s visibility into its own supply chain are the sorts of candidates that could attract budget. Applications that combine blockchain with other more “survival oriented” emerging technologies could also do better.

Blockchain is a reality already!

The Corona-crisis will undoubtedly have negative impact on blockchain for some time. Companies will turn their interest towards less ambitious, more targeted projects.

But the substantial portion of respondents of the Deloitte Survey who already have blockchain in production in their organization highlights the growing maturity. There is however still substantial work to be done. The report does note that “it remains an iterative process, with bumps remaining in the road”.

“As companies adopt and implement blockchain solutions, and as leaders increasingly accept blockchain as a fact rather than a future breakthrough, there remains an underlying level of uncertainty about current and future applications of blockchain technologies.” “We don’t expect that organisations will sort this all out right away – this process will continue to take time, depending on industry, maturity, risk tolerance, and budgets.” Deloitte Survey

But the sentiment at companies towards blockchain has definitely changed. This technology is increasingly becoming a reality for many of them, not just in the future but already!

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

Source

Blockchain and European payments: banks in the defensive mode

| 14-04-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

The European Banking Federation (EBF), the European Association of Co-operative Banks (EACB) and the European Savings and Retail Banking Group (ESBG) point out that the crisis has brought to the fore the importance of well-functioning payments services.

The three groups have put together their vision for payments in the EU over the next five years, as they “seek to meet changes sparked by a mix of evolving customer needs, regulatory action, technology and innovation, and increased competition”.

Top of the list of priorities is the importance of developing instant payments across the EU that allows for both the differentiation of EU companies and the reduction of dependency on the dominant non-EU payment card schemes.

But reading the document not one single word was mentioned about using  blockchain or distributed ledger technology. It seems banks are increasingly getting in the defensive mode worrying the disruptive impact of this technology on their business.

Some critical remarks

Looking into the report the focus is rather limited. It shows a rather isolated EU-oriented view. It does not take into account the new realities such as globalisation of the payments world, the upcoming of new technologies and the global role of organisations  such as Visa and MasterCard, but also the likes of Facebook and Google.
It is too much EU but above all too much euro-area focused, while not taking into account the cross border element especially towards non-euro EU countries.
The report also does not go into more detail towards the various technologies including Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and above all blockchain.

Present state of EU payments market

But let us first look at the present state of the EU payments market. And what blockchain could mean to improve. As EU banks you cannot deny the outside world. I agree, most European domestic payment systems are pretty efficient. But not where one has to transfer money cross-border, especially where it relates to non-euro countries.

Most established centralised payment systems were designed decades ago, in a completely different world. While they are considered to be reliant, secure and stable domestically i.e. inside individual EU countries, these centralized systems have not been able to catch up with the needs of our digital, open and hyper-connected world.

Banks have continued to use the old-style correspondent banking systems for international payments – despite their inherent weaknesses. Notably, these systems are expensive, slow, and complex. In the correspondent banking system, both the originating bank and the foreign bank retain their own ledgers, from which they make reconciliations and settlements. This may lead to a lack of transparency, but also make them vulnerable for hacks.

According to a SWIFT and EuroFinance joint survey, lack of payments traceability, invisibility on banking fees, and amount discrepancies are the key concerns in cross border payments. It can take days to clear traditional cross-border wire payments, which carry fees as high as 10%. According to a McKinsey Research, cross border-payments take 3–5 days, which is quite long for corporates seeking to receive money. In the event of a dispute or investigation, the duration can be longer.

Disruption

New technologies are revolutionizing the way we pay and transfer money all over the globe. With the advent of mobile banking, e-commerce, and digital wallets, banks have to rethink their correspondent banking system of making cross-border payments. Blockchain is another area that – if adopted in a more massive way – could majorly transform the global payment systems and disrupt banks, causing them to realign  or rethink their products.

SWIFT defensive stance

So it is not that strange banks are increasingly in the defensive. SWIFT is still the dominant payment-processing ecosystem with more than 11,000 banks. Blockchain, through its distributed ledger, however may disrupt SWIFT’s operations in the future. To neutralize the rapid adoption of blockchain in the cross-border payments industry, SWIFT developed a cloud solution called Global Payments Innovation (gpi) to connect all clients in the payment chain. Currently, gpi accounts for more than 55 percent of SWIFT cross-border payments. Half of these transactions are reaching the recipients within minutes, but all of them within 24 hours.

Although SWIFT plans to rely on common standards, core architecture, and APIs to be a leader in the industry, it is also slowly embracing blockchain technology. SWIFT has launched a proof-of-concept (PoC) trial with R3′s Corda platform, which is blockchain-powered, to initiate payments that then go to gpi.

How can blockchain improve payments?

Though blockchain is still in its early stages, this technology has a number of inherent characteristics  presenting a fundamentally new way to transfer information and value over digital networks.

This technology could play a huge and central role in payments, underpinning core market infrastructure as well as end-user products, as a source of efficiency, innovation and competitive advantage.

As it is slowly maturing, blockchain technology could gain the trust of banking institutions and adopted widely in the coming years. From large banks and enterprises optimizing global liquidity, to retail stores accepting payment in digital currencies, to new forms of customer identification for retail transactions, blockchain could permeat the payments landscape at an accelerated space.

New forms of payment rails could “blur the lines” between currencies and countries, while cryptography solutions like zero knowledge proof could shift paradigms in areas such as identity, compliance and data privacy.

What are the real benefits?

Blockchain is a promising technology for payment processing. The broad implications for payments, especially improving settlements’ times, removing the middleman and security of cross-border transactions are hard to ignore.

The ability to speed up the payments process, improve capabilities when it comes to cross-border payments, reducing fraud by using smart contracts and making the whole payment processes more efficient and transparent are all elements that may impact its future potential and use.

Efficiency

Blockchain’s primary feature is its efficiency. Because the core idea of a decentralised ledger technology (DLT) is to forego centralised institutions, paying on a blockchain is “as easy as clicking send.”  The distributed ledger facilitates the bilateral, immutable distribution of value with the assistance of a settlement agency. Blockchain, allows the sender and the receiver, as nodes in the network, to have a complete copy of the ledger. In such a scenario, there are no correspondent banks/intermediaries involved, eliminating any chances of manipulation. The results are no money transfer waiting periods or unnecessary third-party processing fees. Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies can be transferred (and recorded for auditing purposes) instantaneously across the world, increasing liquidity and efficiency in the markets.

Security/Safety

Another important feature of blockchain technology is safety. Blockchain allows for the safe transfer of money between different individuals, currencies and countries by securing all transactions on the network with cryptography. The crux of many of its purported benefits for the enterprise is its decentralized nature, which promotes visibility and makes it more difficult for data to be manipulated. The transactions are linked with previous transactions and are distributed to all the participants in the network. For a hacker to tamper with any transaction, he/she must alter all the previous ones, which is (almost) impossible. Additionally, the use of blockchain smart contracts can halt payments when agreed terms are violated.

Cost reduction

And blockchain may support real-time domestic and cross-border payments at lower costs compared to traditional payment services. Blockchain technology completely eliminates the need for intermediaries and facilitate a direct transfer over the platform, thereby eliminating foreign exchange fees while increasing speed of transfer. Instead of incurring these fees, blockchain allows customers to pay only a nominal fee or sometimes no fee at all.

The present state of blockchain adoption in payments

Of course, blockchain technology is still in their early ages and largely still immature. Blockchain payments are not (yet) mainstream and many banks and payment service providers are just testing it, trying to combine the so-called old monetary system with the new one (blockchain solution based values or solutions). Most institutions are still reluctant to embrace blockchain fully until there is broader support for it.

But what about Ripple?

A leading player in the blockchain payment world is Ripple. Its RippleNet blockchain platform facilitates transaction of global payments at a rapid speed, allows users (mostly small business) make payments across the globe and send and receive money in local currency, requiring lower capital amounts for cross-border payments. The company’s ledger technology secures, tracks and reconciles payments, so small businesses have a transparent history of all incoming and outgoing payments.

RippleNet has a product called xRapidthat is already providing low-cost liquidity to financial institutions responsible for facilitating cross-border payments. xRapid can facilitate the process without relying on mandatory pre-funded nostro accounts, as is the case in a correspondent banking system for the execution of cross-border payments, thereby lowering the cost of cross-border transactions. As a result, the transactions occur in a matter of minutes, saving time on recipients.

Currently, the network of banks and commercial platforms has grown to 365, and they are now able to resolve problems that delayed cross-border payments, such as missing data and compliance checks. As more banks join the network, payment delays will reduce importantly.

The Ripple payment system is still in strong competition with SWIFT but is super-fast and can settle a cross border transaction in a matter of few seconds where SWIFT takes more than 3 days at times. Ripple is much more cost effective as well.

Along with this also blockchain platform Corda R3 is helping financial institutions to settle payments.

From hype to more realism

The excitement about blockchain has subsided over the last couple of years. The blockchain hype is over and we are now in the trough of disillusionment, according to Garner’s Hypecycle. Lots of experiments and R&Ds have been taken place from start-ups to central banks, however no full scale working use case has been presented at the moment.

We now moved into a stage of “rational practicality”. However, that is not all bad for the further development of blockchain, as “in the trough is where the real work gets done”. The industry knows what is possible, but also is learning what is practical given the complexity of cross-border payments. Blockchain — assuming it is attached to relevant, pragmatic use cases — can add incremental value to a business or other organization.

Regulatory barriers

One of the primary barriers is the complex global regulatory framework surrounding money and its underlying infrastructure. Central banks, governments and regulatory bodies around the world have varying perspectives and attitudes towards blockchain and its implications to critical matters such as money supply, privacy and financial crime.

As a result, most payment-related innovations either get trapped in ‘proof-of-concept’ mode with limited options for global scale, or end up buried in complicated cross-jurisdiction approval processes. The question now is not will blockchain work, but rather how do we put it to work to create more efficiency in global payment systems and can we get regulatory bodies on-board.

What should banks do?

Inevitably, banks will have to re-evaluate and revamp their existing payment systems to meet the needs of their customers with or without blockchain. However, it is increasingly clear that the scale seems to be tipping towards blockchain given the various benefits including its transparency, speed, and cost of transactions. In the realm of cross-border payments, some financial institutions are already working with blockchain providers to give their customers fast, secure, and cheap services.

When applied correctly, it has the ability to significantly change the way organizations do business with one another. As the global payments ecosystem continues to transform in response to a rapidly shifting commerce landscape, we may see the number of blockchain applications in payments exponentially growing.

A growing number of financial institutions world-wide have reached the point where they recognize blockchain as something that’s not going away and realize that they have to be involved in it if they don’t want to be disrupted by other payments players that use blockchain to bypass slower-moving banking infrastructure.

So, European banks, if you can’t beat them, join them.

By the way, a joint effort of ECB and European banks in creating a European digital currency would be a great step forward.

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

 

 

 

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Blockchain and Corona virus: could it prevent future pandemics?

| 31-03-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

The sudden emergence and rapid but uncontrolled worldwide spread of the Corona virus shows us the failure of existing healthcare surveillance systems to timely handle public health emergencies.

Though improvements in healthcare surveillance have been realised, these still fall short in preventing pandemonium. Lack of necessary steps taken to ensure containment and tracking of the virus have aggravated the situation.

Blockchain technology is increasingly been mentioned as a tool to assist with various aspects of containing the outbreak. Could the use of blockchain in the health care industry help to prevent future pandemics?

Outdated health surveillance systems

Preventing, and controlling diseases that have epidemic potential is a major public health activity. Many surveillance systems are used to track potential new diseases and control existing diseases. Though governments are doing everything in their power to contain the spread of the Corona virus, their fight is hampered by difficulties in the timely sharing of information with local and international health enforcement agencies on the ground.

Unfortunately, many of these systems are outdated, hard to access, or inaccurate. China’s current disease surveillance system for instance is an updated version of a system that is five decades old. And there is the privacy and security issue when using centralised healthcare surveillance systems. Time however is of the essence when dealing with outbreaks of this sort of deadly diseases.

Main issues

Epidemiologists who study how diseases spread, are being faced with the task of gathering, verifying and cleaning data in an efficient manner.

Privacy and security issues, language barriers, the sheer distance between the geographical location of an outbreak, cultural differences, and many other factors are issues that slow the transmission and exchange of necessary information.

Non-optimal data management
There is the data management issue. Containing the Corona virus could come down to a question of data management. Gathering data, verifying that data, and then cleaning up that data however is far from optimal. Epidemiologists need high-quality data to model viruses; with models, they can provide governments with recommendations about how to contain the disease. But that data is hard to get or its integrity cannot be verified, thus of no use to epidemiologists.

Underreporting
As a result of that the current infection and death statistics are speculated to be much higher than reported. The coronavirus outbreak has raised concerns over the Chinese government underreporting the number of infected and deceased. This underreporting can be caused by many disruptions in the system, such as the lack of data transparency.

But also a shortage of testing kits reduces the number of confirmed cases, and deaths can be attributed to other causes. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know just how serious this outbreak really is without access to a secure, decentralized surveillance system.

Political Complications
And there is the issue of national centralised surveillance systems not talking cross-border. Diseases can spread quickly across political borders. Traditional systems run by governments can miss outbreaks because they happen across physical borders. A decentralized system is the fastest way to report outbreaks.

Lack of innovation in healthcare systems
In many countries healthcare surveillance systems lack innovations, caused by low investments in new technologies leading to less effective healthcare systems. This notwithstanding the upcoming of new technologies including artificial intelligence, big data management and blockchain.

Blockchain could be of help

The time to build borderless solutions based on decentralized technologies has come. Highlighting the need for numerous improvements in the health care sector, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology issued a Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap requesting ubiquitous, secure network infrastructure; verifiable identity and authentication of all participants; and consistent representation of authorization to access electronic health information.

Hereblockchain could offer ways to improve many public health activities associated with preventing and controlling diseases. Blockchain powered solutions could address and tackle various aspects of the issue. Blockchain technology has the ability to improve health, access to information, supply chains and many more.

These expectations are based on the key aspects of blockchain technology, such as decentralized management, immutable audit trails, data provenance, and robustness. Additionally, multiple nodes in a permissioned blockchain have the ability to share and report vital data instantly, while complying with data privacy and security regulation

Blockchain use cases

Blockchain could be used to improve a variety of health care-related processes, including record management, healthcare surveillance, tracking disease outbreaks, management crisis situations and many more.

Record management: single source of information
Containing virus should be looked at as a data management issue. The biggest opportunity for blockchain in the healthcare industry is as a single source of truth for the data provenance, as the whole world is fighting against this outbreak. It could be used for record management purposes, to manage real-time data and importantly, to ensure its integrity, while identifying and eliminate misinformation about the Corona virus.

In emergencies like these, there are high numbers of incoming data, “with not many hands on deck to manage the same”. With the use of blockchain, data collection will become automated and immutability of the ledger makes it impossible to alter any of the records.

By using blockchain technology one could be able to securely manage health records, ensuring interoperability without compromising patient privacy and security. Those records could include patients’ data, treatments given, and any progress detected. Blockchain will also make sure that data are archived and protected by any unauthorised access, but still keeping it available for the whole healthcare system.

It will enable users to see all the data and trends on the virus in real-time including all information about confirmed cases of infected, death toll, recoveries, etc. The exponential growth of connectivity and the access to the wealth of data it offers  would allow health officials to quickly track the spread of disease, giving vulnerable populations vital information. All this information can be used by research labs working on a vaccine.

Blockchain healthcare surveillance system
Blockchain can also be used for surveillance purposes. A blockchain healthcare surveillance system can provide the means to prevent and control future outbreaks. A permissioned blockchain surveillance system would allow local and national health agencies to access the surveillance data.

A global blockchain surveillance system could easily reach areas where connectivity is poor, and costs must be kept low. Local practitioners can receive real-time information on surrounding areas, regardless of governmental or political barriers. In addition, global organizations like the World Health Organization could access the data. Because the system is decentralized and secured through blockchain, data remains secure and multiple organizations can report the data.

Tracking infectious disease outbreaks
Blockchain could be used for tracking public health data surveillance, particularly for infectious disease outbreaks. Increasing transparency will result in more accurate reporting and more efficient responses. They would allow for rapid processing of data, enabling early detection of infections before they spread to the level of epidemics.

Blockchain can help develop treatments swiftly, and help with management when pandemics do occur. This could enable government agencies keep track the virus activity, of patients, suspected new cases, and more.

They could also use the blockchain to track down where the virus originated, probably It could enable doctors to review patients’ symptoms and monitor diagnostic data in real time, integrating patient history information. Information can be collected in a distributed way and have that information available to different parties, including authorities such as the WHO.

Management crisis situations
Blockchain technology can not only help in keeping track of the virus and outbreak activity. Blockchain could also be used to better manage pandemic situations and the dissemination of treatment. It could instantly alert the public about the Corona virus by global institutes like the World Health Organization.

It could instantly recommend a course of activity should an outbreak be detected. Using blockchain could enable to provide governments with recommendations about how to contain the virus. It would offer a platform where governments, medical professionals, health organizations, media, and all the concerned parties can update each other of the situation and prevent worsening of the same.

Securing medical supply chains
The blockchain could also be used for “track and tracing” of medical supply chains. Blockchain has already proven its success as a supply chain management tool in other industries. Blockchain-based platforms could be used to enable the review, recording and tracking of demand, supplies and logistics of epidemic prevention materials. As supply chains involve multiple parties (from donors and recipients, to warehousing and delivery logistics), the entire process of record and verification by each party is tamper-proof, while also allowing anyone to track the process.

It could help streamline medical supply-chains, ensuring that doctors and patients have access to the tools when they need them and preventing contaminated items from reaching stores. A blockchain-based system could ensure vaccines, testing equipment, and other relief efforts are sent to the right places at the right times and in the quantities needed, and have that recorded. Securing the supply chains of these valuable resources could have life-saving effects. Combined with a surveillance system, a blockchain supply management system could change the way the world responds to epidemics.

Prevent zoonotic diseases
Zoonotic diseases like Corona could be caught in animals before they make the jump to humans if veterinary field records were kept on a blockchain surveillance system. Because many animals are migratory – so not staying in the same area – a decentralized blockchain system would allow for greater collaboration and transparency across the world. Diseases could be “flagged” and eliminated in animal populations before they make the jump to humans.

China and blockchain

Chinese organizations are trying to implement blockchain-based solutions to combat the Corona virus and reduce its economic impact on the country. They have rolled out a number of applications for immediate and emergency use, to fight the spread of the corona virus in public institutions, hospitals, universities and the financial sector. These are touted as performing a variety of different functions.

These blockchain solutions are already being used by local authorities to manage identity information and donation platforms. Additionally, multiple countries world-wide are employing blockchain-based tools to track patients diagnosed with coronavirus and identify the people who might have been infected. The apps are designed to ensure people’s privacy, identity, and medical records using the blockchain against Corona virus and other medical conditions.

HashLog
One of the interesting applications is HashLog, a solution launched by Acoer, a developer of blockchain-enabled applications for public health and global health organizations, to fight against the deadly coronavirus.

The HashLog visualisation engine interacts in real-time with Hedera Hashgraph’s distributed ledger technology to ensure real-time logging and data visualization of the spread of the disease. With the help of public data from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Acoer’s Hashlog Dashboard is capable of providing real-time information for tracking this epidemic. For example, this application is tracing people traveling to and from the country, to pinpoint patients and prevent further infections.

HashLog allows for the real-time visualization of coronavirus data and trends. This includes the overall number of cases globally, rates of deaths and recovery per infections (where we have reliable data), cases filtered by country, as well as Google trends by interest and region on Corona virus.” Acoer’s CEO, Jim Nasr

This should help epidemiologists verify the integrity of records that have been uploaded to their analytics systems. Each transaction is recorded through a verified hash reference on Hedera’s ledger, meaning epidemiologists can trust data to be legitimate. This allows researchers, scientists and journalists to understand the spread of the coronavirus and its trends over time through visuals presented on Acoer’s HashLog dashboard.

IBM Food Trust
This is not the first time blockchain is being applied to track diseases. There have already been a number of initiatives using blockchain and distributed ledger technology to track the origins of food, for example. The IBM Food Trust has been using blockchain to help improve food safety by managing and conducting food tracings in order to identify sources of contamination for occurrences of Salmonella. By being able to identify the cause quickly and effectively, it is much easier to contain the problem and treat it at the source.

Blockchain preventing pandemics: not yet?

Presently, the authorities all over the world are trying their best to contain the Corona virus as it has shown the potential of turning into a pandemic. And that is where blockchain can help. We have seen that disease outbreaks can happen at any time, anywhere on the planet, with little or no warning. These are natural events that have occurred in the past and will re-occur in the future.

Blockchain will not prevent the emergence of new viruses itself. But what blockchain can do is create the first line of rapid defense through a network of connected devices whose only purpose is to remain alert about disease outbreaks. The use of blockchain can help prevent pandemics by enabling early detection of epidemics, fast-tracking drug trials, and impact management of outbreaks and treatment.

With easy access to such data, the containment of an outbreak becomes manageable and is of great help to the health authorities as well. This instant response capability can represent the difference between quick containment and global contagion.

While blockchain holds promise for the health industry, analyst warn a number of issues, including data standardisation, costs of operation and regulatory considerations, still need to be addressed before this technology is suitable for wide adoption. But with this serious Corona virus pandemic a number of these considerations could be solved rather quickly.

 

 

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher

 

Blockchain consortia need good governance: but how?

| 24-03-2020 | Carlo de Meijer | treasuryXL

Blockchain consortia are creating a massive hype in the market. Many enterprises are highly interested in this type of network willing to join these consortia in order to gain optimal benefits of this technology. However, there is still a large uncertainty among them how these consortia work and how they are governed.  Up till recently the focus was mainly on governance solutions for public blockchain platforms like Hyperledger and Ethereum. Consortium blockchain governance however will become as or even more important to enterprises than public blockchain governance because they will work with this level of governance on a daily basis.

People in the field are increasingly aware that consortium project blockchain governance need to address quite different issues from public blockchains. But what are the main governance issues enterprises should think about ? So let’s take a deeper dive.

What are blockchain consortia?

Before going into more detail in the governance issue, it is good to say that there is no universal sort of blockchain governance. First of it all it depends on the type of blockchain solution that companies can use. Here we can distinct in fact between three main types of blockchain systems: open or public, private or permissioned and consortium or federated blockchains. While the public and private variant are ‘pretty self-explanatory’, the consortium blockchain needs more nuancing.

Blockchain consortia are defined as a type of network where multiple organisations maintain the system  A group of companies thereby collaborate on advancing the state of blockchain technology adoption in the industry, establishing industry standards, drafting use cases, developing key infrastructure and also operating commercial blockchain platforms.

Consortium blockchains are in fact hybrid solutions, in-between public and private, i.e. between fully open, decentralized systems and fully centrally-controlled, thus taking the best of both worlds.  Instead of only one organization, multiple organizations take part in the consortium. As a result, every organization gets similar treatment. So, there’s no single entity ruling over the network.

Types of blockchain consortia

There is however not one uniform type of blockchain consortium. Basically we can distinct between three types at present: technology-focused, business-focused and dual-focused.

The first type of blockchain consortia is the technology-focused. These offer reusable blockchain platforms, solutions based on technical standards. Mainly these have multipurpose use cases. This type of blockchain consortium exists solely for the purpose of helping blockchain reach global recognition. Quorum (based on Ethereum), R3 Corda and Hyperledger have emerged as some of the most popular blockchain development platforms. Each is suited to different industries and types of solutions, and developers are working with them around the world.

The second type is pure business-focused. These tend to develop blockchain solutions for a specific business issue. Instead of offering open-source platforms, many of them go for commercial purposes only. While the majority of these consortia so far are from the financial sector, many other industries like supply finance, trade finance, life science, healthcare etc. are joining in to work on blockchain-based systems and reap such benefits as shared resources, decreased development time and increased communication. Examples include consortia like  Bankchain, We.Trade, Marco Polo, B3i etc.

The third one is dual-focused. Here, they focus on both technology and business when offering a platform or solution, combining the best of both worlds. So, in a way, they would offer an open-source platform suitable for any kind of solution but also commercial products as well.  An example of dual-focused consortium is R3.

In this blog I will focus mainly on the second and third type with from a blockchain governance point-of-view the dual-focused blockchain consortium being the most interesting.

Benefits of blockchain consortia

Joining such a blockchain consortium could bring enterprises a number of interesting benefits, including cost savings, shared (and lower) risks, build critical mass of adoption and offer influencing standards.

First of all such a blockchain industry consortium would help enterprises cut all the expenses quite impressively. Instead of each company building their own solution from scratch, by being part of a consortium, they can share the development costs and time with other organisations.

As these consortia are mainly suited for industrial purposes, enterprises can easily link these up with their existing network more efficiently than public or private blockchain. This can lead to shorter development times and economies of scale. This allows smaller organisations to take advantage of the same system as larger ones. Another significant aspect of this blockchain industry consortium is that they can give a lower transactional fee. As it is a more controlled environment, and only permissioned people can get in, it would be much more stable.

What is blockchain governance?

But what is governance in general and why is it important?  The term ‘governance’ is used in many ways. In the business environment it is often defined in the context of process and IT control. Governance is thereby a structure that every user or participant agrees to follow. It refers to all actions such as decision-making processes that are involved in creating, updating, and abandoning formal and informal rules of a system.

In the context of blockchain consortia we define governance as a set of rules that govern this partnership both organisational and operational. These rules focus on what is the subject of the regulation, who is involved, i.e. what are the roles and what are they responsible for, and, how will decisions be made? These rules can be code (e.g. smart contracts), laws (e.g. fees for malign actors), processes (what must be done when X happens), or responsibilities (who must do what).

Why is proper governance important for blockchain consortia?

One of the aims of governance is to establish a foundation of mutual trust, which allows companies to carry out their business processes using the blockchain solution. Its core purpose is to meet the user or participant’s needs with available resources as efficiently as possible and achieve the long-term sustainability of the structure. There are various reasons why good governance for blockchain consortia is urgently needed.

First of all: from an acceptance point of view.
As the size and complexity of blockchain have grown, better management calls for proper governance. Since the strategic value of the blockchain networks lies in its scaling, it is important to consider that an increasing network size correlates positively with an increase in coordination complexity. Hence, for the few high-potential applications in trade finance, insurance, supply chain and mobility services a proper establishment of sustainable governance principles for the deployment of a blockchain consortium is key.

Second: no one party can exert dominant control
Consortium blockchains have many of the same benefits of private blockchains. But there is something more. That is they could employ a group governance model over their network so no one party can exert dominant control over the others. This increases the trust of a consortium network significantly over a single entity private blockchain, while still maintaining the benefits of a private blockchain. Additionally, consortium blockchains are not restricted to only being visible to network members. Their transactions can be openly seen by the public, engendering increased trust.

Third: to solve the Coopetition Paradox
The strategic value of blockchain technology can only be realised through the respective adoption at scale. These blockchain consortia are thereby effectively obliged to address the so-called Coopetition Paradox through collaboration between natural competitors in a particular industry. The Coopetition Paradox forces blockchain consortia to break up fierce competition between industry rivals in order to access the strategic value of such a business network. Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this topic.

Fourth: as a mean to achieve efficient change
The biggest motivation behind Blockchain governance for blockchain consortia is the goal of efficient change. That means the ability to fix issues as fast as possible and change where change is needed. These issues can be of all kinds, including changes to blockchain parameters, the recovery of lost coins due to hacks.

Governance is especially needed in blockchains with enterprise or end-user use cases. Quick updates could enable enterprise and mass market end-user use cases.
An update/change that takes too much time could cause corporates to abandon the service or not participate in the consortium. Changes could also divide the community and lead to even more uncertainty and hesitation to participate. Conceptually, this is where centralized applications are advantageous.

Fifth: governance mitigates indirect dependence on incumbents
Another motivation to use blockchain governance in blockchain consortia is that it could mitigate indirect dependence on incumbents, such as the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Google that determine their own rules, such as the publicly criticized use of personal date. Publicly accessible and governable blockchains could mitigate that indirect dependence. Everybody who is interested in how those systems are set up, could purchase the respective tokens and suggest changes including changes in regards to how personal data is handled.

Sixth: Governance as a competitive advantage
A sixth but not final motivation is that it could improve competition. Given the fact that most blockchain projects are open-source, copying them is a waste of effort. Thus, the biggest competitive advantages for blockchain projects stem from the community’s size and speed of adaption. The more supporters a project has and the quicker the developers can react to issues and competitors, the greater the chances of survival.

What governance model for blockchain consortia?

Governance in blockchain consortia is quite different from that in pure public or private blockchains. A private blockchain is mostly controlled by normal IT governance, while the issue of specific blockchain governance only applies to open and permissioned platforms

Before enterprises can develop governance of the blockchain consortium, they first need to determine the business goals and business model of the blockchain project. So will the blockchain project operate as a service provider (so no direct customer contact) with a relatively limited number of participants, or will it act as a market participant, directly reaching the ultimate customer. The business model may also be affected by regulatory issues in the business.

Key factors to consider
When starting a blockchain consortium it is important to agree on a number of rules right at the outset, such as access to the platform and rules to perform activities. In the context of a permissioned blockchain solution used by a consortium business partner network, there remains the question of what exactly it is important to control.

In order to ensure the reliability, integrity and transparency of the solution, one needs to consider more than just goal-oriented governance issues (such as changes to data structure, codes and technology). One should also define the various stakeholders and their specific roles, as well as assess how to control the ecosystem. But also what entity should represent the blockchain consortium and what legal issues to consider

One should at least agree on a number of questions
There is no best practice here, so there are many open questions and a lot of unknown territory, such as who can decide what, and when?, how should decisions be made? (using people and committees, or using smart contracts?), which data should be visible to whom and what is allowed, what is not allowed, and what do people want?

Governance structure: issues
When thinking about the governance structure, one should address some main  issues. First of all one should ensure that all stakeholder groups in the blockchain eco-system are represented. One should also focus on implementation of the business model for the blockchain consortium (B2B or B2C). While determining intellectual property ownership and licensing as well as how to raise and spend funds to support the blockchain project

Shared values
The governance system should be based on a number of shared values. First of all there should be no dominance by a single player: i.e. as decentralised as possible.
The partnership and the distribution / exercise of power should be governed by rules. It should be an open value-added chain: i.e. – intellectual property is available to the consortium and can be exploited by its members. Relating to collaboration between companies, the process and data standards for the consortium should be defined together and used. And it should be a neutral platform, meaning that  the solution should be ‘open’ whereby all members should have access to the process, data and interface definitions.

Blockchain consortium governance architecture

Governance of blockchain consortia should be looked at on various layers. business network; protocol level and data level.

Business network layer
One of the key challenges of forming a blockchain consortia is balancing the interests of the initiators and the later-joiners. One should take account of the early investments made by the initiators as well as the incentivisation needs for later-joiners of blockchain consortia. This becomes even more crucial if the initiators are industry leaders or key competitors. In such cases, the coopetition paradox urges the operators of the business network to open up towards competitors to materialise the strategic value of the network for all contributors.

A centralized legal entity for the business network, a so-called network operating company governed by open governance principles is the preferred standard. The network operating company would be in charge for the development, administration and commercialisation of the blockchain application. This central entity approach enhances transparency within the business network and compliance with respective laws especially in the field of anti-trust and data protection. However, not every network member has similar interests. Some like to assume a more active role in the management and technical deployment of the network while others just simply want to use the blockchain application as a service through an API-access.

The organisational governance must account for the interests of both the equity holders and the community. The equity holders of the network operating company would elect the members of the board of directors representing their respective interests. The board itself appoints an executive management team in charge of the day-to-day operations of the business network and thereby the platform.

Non-equity holding customers should be given a voice by establishing a so-called community council. This body can be approached for consultation in case of key product development issues, changes to membership admission policies or protocol and data privacy related matters.

In order to ensure maximum reach and acceptance within the ecosystem, the platform should be open-sourced to the community. This means that basic access to the platform is granted for free, provided that the node operation is handled by the respective member. Next to that a tailor-made subscription-based API-access model could be offered.


Protocol layer
The initial protocol layer is normally defined by the initiators of the business network during the assessment undertaken in the proof-of-concept. In general, the framework used should be based on an open-source standard (such as Hyperledger Fabric, R3 Corda or Ethereum). This would facilitate the integration into legacy systems for the users. Furthermore, the above-mentioned blockchain frameworks also enjoy prominent support by companies operating in the ecosystem. Moreover, in case changes to the protocol become necessary, the network operating company can consult the community council for consent prior to its implementation.

Data layer
And there is the data layer. The blockchain application should be built upon the principle of privacy by design. That means that any data should only belong to its original owner and can only be transacted in agreement with the data owner. Moreover, the network operating company should act as the data controller and data processor in line with the applicable data protection laws, while the data storage would ideally be decentralised (e.g. point-to-point communication or IPFS), although the relevant solutions need to mature further.

Some concluding remarks

What has been written in this blog is just a starter. Blockchain governance is an ongoing discussion and will certainly involve a wide range of different opinions. There is no best-practice. Solutions described here for blockchain consortia governance are still far from complete.

The challenges of governance in blockchain consortia are very similar to those solved (and continuing to be solved) by open source software (OSS) projects, such as Linux and OpenStack. Blockchain project consortia should therefore look to the experience of OSS projects to take advantage of their experience (and avoid their errors).

 

Carlo de Meijer

Economist and researcher