/ Ecosystem

The Blockchain Technology Olympics of 2018

Hodor

Hodor

I blog about Ripple & XRP. FULL DISCLOSURE: All views are my own. I do not work for Ripple; I am not a professional financial analyst, and the majority of my crypto holdings are XRP.

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Occasionally, we feel the emotions that the athlete on the top of the podium feels.  When they receive the gold medal and have overcome innumerable odds to get there, it affects us all.  We like to cheer for the underdog, or the individual who, through hard work, determination and perseverance has somehow overcome the naysayers and been able to succeed.Gold_medal_olympics

Each Olympics covers these stories in one form or another, and even though they share similarities, none of us tires of hearing them.  They remind us who we are as human beings.  We want those we care about to succeed and overcome their challenges, and we want to share in that victory.

In the world of crypto, I’ve watched Ripple’s story unfold from when it was created.  I kept watching from 2013 to 2017 as it was built methodically through dedication and hard work by its team members.  There was no shortage of people in crypto that said that Ripple would fail!

It’s been a long road, and now we’re seeing the results of all that hard work and planning start to pay off.  The good news doesn’t happen by accident in the crypto markets, and Ripple has been achieving some remarkable success in multiple areas, including liquidity, international reach, media coverage, price appreciation, and community support.

Even as I’ve been cheering for my favorite digital asset, I was surprised to see the traction Ripple is making in an unexpected category: central banks.

Central Banks Switching to xCurrent

If banks are the conservative cousins to most of mainstream businesses, then central banks are the stern, uncompromising parents of those cousins.

The SWELL conference was a carefully planned and executed event that accompanied much fanfare in the banking industry and in the press.  So I was taken by surprise with the sudden planning and commencement of the “Central Bank Summit” hosted by Ripple at Carnegie hall the very next month.  At the Central Bank Summit, Ripple hosted representatives from over two dozen central banks, along with representatives from the International Monetary Fund. 1

This event should have been our first clue that Ripple wasn’t just hosting the event for educational purposes; they had an agenda along with the event, and it became a bit more apparent in December, with some internal shuffling of executives and resources at Ripple.

On December 19th, a surprise tweet appeared from Dilip Rao: 2

diliptweet.jpg

He linked to the official announcement by Ripple, which stated: 3

“Central banks and financial market infrastructures, key stakeholders in the global payments system, have ramped up their engagement with technology providers to explore how they can leverage DLT….”
Intriguingly, Ripple indicated that the increase in interest and investment was sudden & quiet, which is especially exciting given Ripple’s positioning as a possible method for letting separate RTGS systems communicate with each other.

I want to point out that these central banks are not using xRapid, however; the idea is for these stakeholders to implement some version of xCurrent to communicate back and forth securely.

Ripple alluded to the fact that their software solution(s) were ideal for the task that central banks needed to focus on, along with their own willingness to work with these quasi-governmental monetary organizations:

“… We can provide proven building blocks for both regulators and commercial banks to pilot real-world solutions in collaboration with the Ripple team.”
The strategy to support central banks’ efforts at utilizing Ripple technology was a logical progression from some of the other news items we’ve heard in the past; we knew that Ripple had worked with the IMF on their advisory board (via Chris Larsen).  We also knew that they had worked on a project with the Bank of England.

It appears that Ripple’s strategy to devote significant resources to central banks is now paying off.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority

At the Blockchain Connect Conference on January 26th in San Francisco, Brad Garlinghouse revealed that the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority was a client: 4
“Even if the blockchain technology develops, I do not think the government will disappear. When I consider overseas markets, such as China, I think we should cooperate with the People's Bank of China . This is why Ripple works only with regulated exchanges: the Bank of England and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority are our paying customers.”
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) is the central bank of Saudi Arabia.  It has enormous stores of value, including the custody of the third largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, with assets listed around $700 billion.

This announcement was an exciting development indeed; it marked the second paying customer that fell into the category of “central bank” for Ripple, which is quite prestigious.  The announcement also followed speculation about the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) project to smooth cross-border payments, and rumors arising from Ripple’s discussions with the Chinese Central Bank. 5 6

Since the mention at the conference, there has also been coverage of Ripple's win in the foreign press as well.  Here is a mention at one Middle Eastern news site: 7

“The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) has revealed that it recently signed an agreement with Ripple in cooperation with a number of local banks to use the company's foreign remittance technology, a modern technology that helps speed up payments between countries and reduce their cost.”

How Do Central Banks Factor In?

The pursuit of central banks is not something that happened by accident.  It wasn’t a peripheral activity either, as planning another conference directly on the heels of SWELL would not have been easy.  Instead, Ripple pushed forward with their schedule, and even devoted significant internal resources to formally pursuing central banks in December.

We can safely conclude that the pursuit of central banks is a deliberate and methodical step in a larger plan by Ripple, and they are executing on that plan with material results in a very short amount of time.

Within banking, there is a hierarchy and organization to how money flows within each country; these pathways of value necessarily involve interactions between central banks and the various commercial banks within a nation.  Ripple’s technology is specifically targeted to allow communication between these central banks and their stakeholder organizations using concepts that they’ve championed in the past, such as the Interledger Protocol (ILP).

Perhaps Ripple views the central banks as the standard bearers in banking, or perhaps they view central banks as a “lever and fulcrum” to motivate domestic banks to upgrade their aging technology infrastructure to use immutable decentralized ledgers.  Personally, I’m speculating that the second motivation is the strongest.  From what I’ve seen, leadership is needed on an international scale to pull banks into the light of modern blockchain technology, and Ripple could do well to have strong allies like the worlds’ central banks.

XRP Community Corner

Ripple is growing into a larger company now; its start-up roots have been left behind at this point, and the harbingers of the future company are already on display.  They've opened up many new global offices, expanded hiring to other countries, and are boasting a long list of customers.

In addition, they have increased XRP community engagement in 2017 and are continuing that trend in 2018.

Ripple Increasing Community Engagement

The latest example was a post by one of their employees on the r/Ripple subreddit.  He directly asked the question(s): 8
“What do you want to see more of on our social channels and our insights blog? Video?

Who do you want to hear more from?”


This is a great sign that Ripple is growing into an organization that is large enough to devote a portion of its resources to support the growth of the community.  While Ripple certainly does the lion’s share of the coding on the XRP Ledger, there has been a number of community developers that have been creating some impressive applications lately as well; it would be great to see Ripple engage with the community, generally, at a deeper level than they already do, but even more important in my opinion is developer support of new projects that could be built on Codius, ILP, or the XRPL.

Docker-ized Rippled?

For those that are wondering “what is Docker?”: Docker is a tool for deploying software.  It’s kind of a cool method of deployment, and I’ve used it in the past when moving a program from one Linux server to another – basically the innovation with Docker is that the entire program is compiled along with it’s environment, and you can easily port it to any other machine that is running Docker without having to worry about environmental variables and other complexities.

I didn’t handle much dev-ops work in the past, but I knew enough to be excited when I’d heard that the same developer who created the XRP Tip Bot - @WietseWind on Twitter – had now created a “Dockerized version of Rippled”.  This means that anybody that can download and run Docker can now install and run a Rippled validator.  Here is his tweet about this accomplishment: 9

docker_rippled

Running your own validator will make the network more resilient, faster, and more decentralized over time.  To learn more about how to set up and run your own Rippled validator, refer to his instructional blog entry here:  https://medium.com/@WietseWind/how-to-run-a-ripple-validator-digitalocean-7e5fca1c3d77

XRP TIP Bot for Discord

In addition to the Dockerized Rippled validator, @WietseWind also expanded his tip bot to cover Discord users.

The tip bot has been in use for months on Reddit.  It’s been used there to reward posters for quality content over time, and recently it was enhanced by its creator to support tipping on Twitter as well.  The method of tipping other posters is straight-forward in both cases: The user just replies to a post and says “+1.543 /u/xrptipbot” (Reddit) or “+1.543 @uitipbot” (Twitter).  As long as they have a balance in their automatically-created account, the tip goes through!

And in the last week, @WietseWind expanded this tipping application further by integrating with Discord, yet another social media application that allows decentralized authentication via its security model.  To use the tip bot on Discord, it’s intuitive: The tip goes to the first user you mention in the comment that includes @xrptipbot.  Here’s an example from the xrp tip bot website10

If you use Discord, then you’ll want to have a few XRP handy to send to other posters occasionally when you see one of those posts where you say out loud “Nice post!” Now you can share your enthusiasm by sending them actual value.

XRP Adoption News & Media Coverage

For those of us following cryptocurrency developments, it’s difficult to find news outlets that don’t have some sort of secondary agenda, or ties to financial interests that might be at odds with the cryptocurrencies that we’ve chosen to invest in.  Distributed ledger technology is a difficult topic to cover accurately from a technical standpoint, and it’s easy – perhaps too easy – for a quick sound bite to obtain traction with potential investors rather than the truth.

Ripple is aware of the constant public relations battle that must be waged as an inherent part of existing in the crypto market space and has consistently applied themselves at delivering a consistent message across all media platforms, no matter if they are part of mainstream news reporting, or the more fast-moving applications that make up social media.

I’ve noticed something recently, however, in the last six months; while there was initially some obstacles to overcome in relation to communicating the complexities of their platform, Ripple’s message has started to gain traction with mainstream media.  Of course it helps if the CEO is a skilled communicator like Brad Garlinghouse.  He's a CEO that's talented in both day-to-day operational endeavors and also the necessary “front man” responsibilities of heading up the (arguably) largest fintech company in the world.

In case you missed it, Brad Garlinghouse was invited to speak at Yahoo Finance's Crypto-Focused All Markets Summit on Wednesday, February 7th.

Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit

One of my favorite comparisons that Brad Garlinghouse used was when one of the reporters asked whether banks would ever use XRP in place of Nostro accounts.  Brad told an interesting story about a quote from Randall L. Stephenson who (now) notoriously made the statement: 11
“AT&T will never use IP for voice traffic.”
Randall was skeptical, and pointed out that while the industry might invest in data transmittal through IP, it’s analog networks would carry the day with all of its current capabilities (year 2000).

Today, there is no voice network – it’s all IP.  Brad’s point was this: while banks may be wary of using a digital asset at the moment due to one concern or another, xRapid’s adoption is just beginning.  He then followed up by pointing out that xRapid gives you a faster product at a lower price.  In reference to banks’ preference to start out using xCurrent he had this to say:

“I view this as a ‘crawl-walk-run’”
He was referring to eventually getting banks to replace their Nostro account holdings and their associated costs with the more cost-effective xRapid solution that uses XRP for sourcing transaction liquidity.  This statement is a confirmation of the XRP community’s understanding of the adoption strategy for XRP as well, and it’s a welcome validation of our confidence in xRapid’s eventual at-scale use by banks and other large remittance companies.

Yahoo itself viewed the interview with Brad Garlinghouse as major news as well, publishing at least two follow-up articles on the discussion.  In one, they reiterated the point that Brad made about why he doesn’t consider Bitcoin and other top digital assets to be currencies: 12

“I don’t call this cryptocurrency,” he said. “It’s not currency. I can’t go to Starbucks or Amazon and use—and you know, somebody inevitably will be like, Well, I have one example where I bought something with a bitcoin.’ And then I usually say, ‘Well, did you do a second transaction?’ It’s not actually a currency. These are digital assets. If the asset solves a real problem for a real customer, then there’ll be value in the asset.”
It was a great interview that hit on all the right notes.

UAE Exchange

UAE Exchange is a major remittance processor for the United Arab Emirates.  It is massive.  Headquartered in Abu Dhabi, It has 800 offices in 31 countries across the world.13  It employs somewhere around 9,000 people worldwide.

And now it’s announced that it is joining RippleNet and partnering with Ripple to handle cross-border payments in real-time.  Promoth Manghat, the CEO of UAE Exchange Group, Promoth_Manghat_CEO_of_UAE_Exchange_Groupcommented on the new deal: 14

“Our growth strategy has always been, and continues to be, driven by our customer-centric approach. Incorporating Ripple’s blockchain technology into our payments systems will bring customers an enhanced, new payments experience.” He added, “The early adoption of this game-changing technology allows us to offer a competitive service, as it will have an impact on the speed and cost of cross-border transactions. We are proud to deliver the future of payments with Ripple.”
Hearing that quote, I just started nodding in silent agreement.  When a company talks about “competition,” “speed and cost,” you know that they are listening carefully to the requirements of their customers.  And Ripple technology is going to help UAE Exchange get a leg up on the competition.

LianLian

If you don’t remember anything else about LianLian, just remember this: It is big – very big.  Global e-commerce measures somewhere around $4 trillion dollars at present, and China is responsible for the largest chunk of that number: $672 billion dollars.  And LianLian is the fourth-largest remittance processor in China, working with names you might recognize: Ebay, Amazon, and Ali Express.  They process billions of dollars’ worth of payments. 15 16

On Wednesday, February 7th – the same day Brad Garlinghouse spoke at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit, Ripple announced that LianLian was now a customer that planned on implementing xCurrent to handle all cross-border payments.

This is big news not just because it’s another massive payment processor using Ripple technology, but also because LianLian handles nineteen currencies at present when they process cross-border transactions.  While LianLian is opting to start with xCurrent, it provides yet another customer that could eventually utilize XRP at a future point. 17

MoneyGram Expanding into Philippines

Now that we know that remittance giant MoneyGram is trying out xRapid, it’s a good idea to track business developments related to this payment processor.  One of those business developments was recently picked up by the mainstream press, and officially announced by the companies involved.  The gist?  MoneyGram and GCash are teaming up.

GCash is a mobile payments processing application that has 30 million active smartphone users, with enormous coverage of the Philippines.  The Philippines is a huge market, and ranks as the world’s third-largest remittances recipient, with approximately $33 billion of inflows into the country from international sources. 18

This is great news for MoneyGram, as it dramatically boosts its market reach.  With the xRapid trial and the new partnership with GCash, it’s obvious that MoneyGram is focused on building its market share on a global scale.

Asia MTM Group accepts XRP - Directly as Payment

Who is Asia MTM Group?  It’s a large company based in China that supplies mobile phone parts and accessories primarily for Blackberry, Samsung, HTC, LG, Nokia, Motorola, and Apple. 19

The company does business with companies throughout the world, so it’s no wonder that they want to utilize XRP for payment; but accepting XRP directly as a means of settlement is a step that not many other businesses have taken.  This is an interesting example, and it’s noteworthy based on the size of the company.  It might foretell a new organic trend of companies accepting direct payment in XRP rather than in their own native currency. 20

Another “first?”  The company’s official website boasts an XRP ticker!  You can view it here:  http://www.asiamtm.com/xrp-ripple-ticker/

XRP Price Appreciation

Ah yes – the reason most of us get “into crypto” in the first place!

We’re here doing research and building applications, and debating crypto.  Most of us in the crypto space invest in various cryptocurrencies, and actively follow price movements on popular websites like coinmarketcap, cryptocompare or Coingecko.  While the “great crypto crash of 2018” appears to have abated and faded slowly into the past, the recovery and appreciation of crypto values has yet to rebound to our previous levels.  Every crypto network is tracking its own price movements and trying to determine how to recapture its previous share of the space as the market regains its momentum.

Fortunately for XRP investors, the recovery started with a bang, and XRP led the charge upward, posting day-over-day gains of 50% since it hit its low point earlier this week.  These incredible returns over just two days caught the eye of mainstream press, who have been covering its price movements.  Forbes commented: 21

“XRP's gains exceeded those of many top digital currencies.”
The Merkle added to this the next day: 22
“With a solid 53.09% gain in the past 24 hours, the XRP price is back”
This mainstream media coverage is great for XRP, and it reveals that the new money flowing into crypto is looking for value investments, and is much less likely to “throw darts at the coin listings” to make its investment choices.  This means that a cryptocurrency like XRP, backed by a massive US company, is more likely to attract investment than some of the other choices.

This trend is not lost on Wall Street, either, and the platforms that offer futures trading on XRP are now telling an interesting story.

Futures Trading on XRP

A tweet from Emi Yoshikawa brought an interesting observation to the attention of twitter followers: 23 Emi_tweet

She noticed that futures traders were almost all “going long” on XRP, which means that they believed, almost as a group, that XRP was undervalued and would soon climb to higher price points.  This futures activity was reported by Bloomberg on February 8th24

Look Who’s on Forbes’ Richest in Cryptocurrency List

While Forbes usually sticks to hard news items, one of the things that it's known for is its “richest list” articles.  People love to find out information about others, and in this case, the list targets those famous personalities that comprise leadership in the crypto markets.

It’s not entirely unexpected that some of the founders of Ripple made their way onto the Chris_Larsen_Forbeslist, but it’s worth noting that the number one spot is held by a Ripple Board Member:  Chris Larsen! 25

Because of his “founders share” of XRP, he is worth – on paper – billions of dollars.   He’s not the only Ripple executive mentioned.  Brad Garlinghouse’s XRP holdings also put him on the same list, albeit the fifteenth spot, just ahead of Barry Silbert and Vitalik Buterin.  I won't give away the quoted numbers, but suffice it to say that they're big...very big.BradG_Forbes

Get used to seeing these two faces on future lists: XRP price appreciation will increase Brad’s prominence on this list over the course of 2018 to the top ten, I predict.  There will definitely be some reshuffling, but I see Chris Larsen extending his already-significant lead over the competition in 2018 by an order of magnitude.

More Exchanges

We are always excited about new exchanges, but the most recent two examples are particularly exciting because it expands XRP’s coverage into markets which are at their early stages of growth:  both India and the Middle East.

Bitoasis

Bitoasis is based in Dubai, a city-state in the United Arab Emirates. 26 In the past it has opened up purchases of Bitcoin to those in the middle East, and is now planning on adding XRP to its list of cryptocurrencies available for purchase. 27

Bitoasis is the largest Bitcoin exchange in the UAE, so the listing of XRP alongside its other choices is an exciting development.  In addition to the UAE, the other countries in the Middle East served by Bitoasis include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.  The exchange had this to say about listing XRP:

“We’ve decided to introduce XRP trading to meet the increased demand from our customers to add to the list of major cryptocurrencies and digital assets offered on our platform…we’re committed to providing our customers a secure way to buy and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum and now, Ripple.”

Zebpay

Zebpay is one of the new “hybrid” marketplaces that is considered both a mobile wallet application and also an exchange. 28 29 30  The exchange doesn’t have any brick-and-mortar presence in India.  It’s CEO, Saurabh Agrawal, had this to say:
“We made a key decision that mobile phones are huge in India and internet penetration is big through phones. So we decided on an app-only presence in India…”
Their strategy seems to be paying off.  According to an article recently published in October,31 there were over a million downloads of the Zebpay app, and recently just a few months later, the company website claims that a total of three million users now use the app! 32

On February 8th, we learned that they’re adding XRP to their list of supported cryptocurrencies.  The company actually handled their own press release, writing and publishing a blog entry about the decision to list XRP. 33 The press release was short and to the point, addressing the increasing demand for XRP:

“we are now excited to announce Ripple support on Zebpay. Starting today, users can buy, sell, send and receive Ripple (XRP) using Zebpay.”
The excitement in the XRP community was palpable, as the following tweet demonstrated: 34 zebpay_tweet

Medal Podium

The momentum building behind XRP and Ripple is unmistakable; with each week that passes, more exchanges are added to the XRP network, pouring even further liquidity into the ecosystem.  The average daily volume for XRP is now measured above $2 billion per day, and will most likely grow to multiples of this number as 2018 progresses.

The good news can be categorized, but think about it in terms of an overall story that is unfolding about a company.  This company – Ripple – is expanding to a new size and level of operations that it has never known previously.  With expansion comes administrative challenges, to be sure, but also opportunities for growth and new markets.  We’ve seen some hints around XRP’s potential, but don’t be surprised if 2018 brings some well-earned victories for our favorite fintech company along with its famous digital asset.

Unlike some Olympic “underdog” stories, we’ve been tracking this one for quite some time. ripple-symbol3

Sources:

  1. https://ripple.com/insights/ripple-hosts-worlds-central-banks-to-explore-next-generation-of-payments/
  2. https://twitter.com/diliprao/status/943213563010625536
  3. https://ripple.com/insights/exploring-innovation-payment-system-infrastructures/
  4. http://www.sohu.com/a/220864864_257855
  5. http://www.businessinsider.sg/ripple-wants-to-be-part-of-singapores-cross-border-payments-blockchain-experiment-report/
  6. https://cointelegraph.com/news/ripple-talks-with-peoples-bank-of-china-key-to-chinese-blockchain-market
  7. http://www.maaal.com/archives/20180210/103099
  8. https://www.reddit.com/r/Ripple/comments/7wfryx/what_do_you_want_to_see_more_of/
  9. https://twitter.com/WietseWind/status/961655667282071557
  10. https://www.xrptipbot.com/howto
  11. https://youtu.be/Q4OC-XAvt8Y
  12. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/ripple-ceo-dont-call-cryptocurrency-185814347.html
  13. https://www.uaeexchange.com/about-us
  14. https://ripple.com/ripple_press/uae-exchange-partners-ripple-instant-cross-border-payments/
  15. https://ripple.com/insights/lianlian-pay-joins-ripplenet-provide-faster-payments-china/
  16. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180207005419/en/Ripple-Partners-LianLian-International-Power-Instant-Payments
  17. http://www.lianlianpay.com/international/about.html
  18. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/moneygram-and-gcash-drive-financial-inclusion-in-the-philippines-300595413.html
  19. http://wassociation.com/trade/204868-asia-mtm-group-ltd--supplier-mobile-phone-parts-and-accessories.html
  20. http://www.asiamtm.com/we-now-accept-crypto-currency-xrp-as-payment-for-our-products/
  21. https://www.forbes.com/sites/cbovaird/2018/02/09/ripple-prices-surge-as-cryptocurrencies-bounce-back/#18ee8c9a1e58
  22. https://themerkle.com/xrp-price-surges-to-1-20-thanks-to-solid-50-overnight-gain/
  23. https://twitter.com/emy_wng/status/962082409901473792
  24. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-08/investors-increasingly-willing-to-spread-bet-against-bitcoin?utm_content=tech&utm_campaign=socialflow-organic&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&cmpid%3D=socialflow-twitter-tech
  25. https://www.forbes.com/richest-in-cryptocurrency/#b1fa7521d496
  26. https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/bitoasis
  27. https://www.financemagnates.com/cryptocurrency/news/bitoasis-offer-ripple-trading-starting-next-week/
  28. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zebpay
  29. https://www.zebpay.com/
  30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4j7fL81xliw&feature=youtu.be
  31. http://www.forbesindia.com/article/startups/zebpay-and-its-big-bet-on-bitcoins/48473/1
  32. https://www.zebpay.com/
  33. https://medium.com/@zebpay/introducing-ripple-on-zebpay-8519ecdd25bf
  34. https://twitter.com/Tweeter_Nathan/status/961823326581608453

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Hodor

Hodor

I blog about Ripple & XRP. FULL DISCLOSURE: All views are my own. I do not work for Ripple; I am not a professional financial analyst, and the majority of my crypto holdings are XRP.

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