2018 was a tough year for many blockchain projects and cryptocurrencies, yet 2019 offered a strong rebound for blockchain infrastructure improvements, supply chain use cases, and ongoing investments from big financial players. In addition, many blockchain projects started transitioning from pilot programs to consumer products.
For digital currencies, the ICO space became nearly dead after the record highs of 2017 and early 2018, with venture capital retracting down to a third of the $4 billion in investments from the previous year. However, the space saw significant industry forays from big corporate players, such as JP Morgan, Facebook’s Libra and Visa.
In addition to that, previous blockchain skeptic Goldman Sachs launched and established a number of crypto-investing and blockchain-based products for their clients. Outside of the finance world, there were major blockchain projects released in a wide variety of industries, such as sports, healthcare, music and agriculture.
China Blockchain Bans, followed by State-approvals
From blanket crypto-bans, to the approval of a national digital currency, when China makes a move in the blockchain and cryptocurrency landscape, the market listens. Although trading with bitcoin was officially banned in China 3 years ago, over 90% of crypto trading was renminbi-to-bitcoin, and even with the ban, it still accounts for a majority of worldwide trading action, thanks to other Asian exchanges catering to that market. In addition, China-approved cryptocurrency miners dominate that space, too.
Other top news from China this year involved the story of Chinese merchants using tether (a “stablecoin” pegged to the USD) to sell products to shopping centers in Russia, as opposed to using bitcoin, thanks to its stability in price. Also, president Xi Jinping surprised many back in October, after he said that China would take the global lead in blockchain. This was followed by the announcement of their state-approved digital currency, and the Bank of China issuing bonds on blockchain.
Around $300 Billion in Assets Distributed via Blockchain Transactions
Towards the end of 2019, there had been more than 450 million blockchain-based transactions.This didn’t just apply to fully decentralized platforms, but also fiat-based international payment companies using blockchain, like California startup Veem. Not to be left behind, money-transfer giant Western Union soon followed with their own blockchain partnership (XLM), to help speed up their globe-spanning transactions.
Football & Crypto
A year ago, Gibraltar United became the first football team to pay players with digital currencies, while French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain announcing its plan for its own crypto. In 2019, top-flight club Manchester City unveiled their announcement of a gaming partnership with a sports service developer from South Korea, called Superbloke. This furthers the ongoing alliance between blockchain and sports, one of the best ways to mainstream the technology, thanks to their billions of global fans.
The Social Media Elephant in the Room: Libra
In mid-2019, Facebook made the surprise announcement of entering the blockchain space with their own cryptocurrency, called Libra. It was envisioned to be the currency of choice for billions of people, including the ‘unbanked’ citizens of 3rd world countries, without access to financial services. The launch also included an impressive roster of partners, ranging from top VCs, to e-commerce, payments, entertainment and ride-hailing giants, all part of the Swiss-based ‘Libra Association’.
Many argue the Libra stablecoin (which is pegged to a basket of currencies) is not truly decentralized. Yet it is still arguably a blockchain. This meant that because of Facebook’s status as “the largest nation in the world”, it became a threat to the status quo of the fiat central banking system. This created much regulatory oversight and strangleholds for Libra, ahead of their 2020 launch, particularly from US and EU lawmakers. Thus, big partners like Visa, Paypal and Ebay shortly left the association.
Top Enterprises Leveraging Ready-to-use Blockchain Solutions
2019 saw a lot of market action towards enterprise-level DLTs (decentralized ledger technologies). The year started strong, with Nasdaq investing in blockchain projects, ING Bank signing a partnership with blockchain startups, as well as the emergence of powerful consortium partnerships, such as the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance.
Furthermore, IBM, Amazon and Oracle started investing even more resources into their enterprise-grade blockchain solutions, as well as R3’s international blockchain consortium unveiling its platform, Enterprise Corda. These moves are meant to help increase security, privacy, speed of transactions and scaling, all at enterprise levels. Similarly, some of the world’s largest food suppliers, like Walmart, Unilever and Nestlé are also working with IBM to create a blockchain-based food tracing system.
Lenovo, HTC & Samsung Announce Blockchain Products
When Lenovo announced in early 2018 that they were developing a “blockchain phone”, it was widely derided as a publicity stunt, with no actual phone to speak of. Fast-forward 18 months and Lenovo is looking to leverage their $240 million deal with IBM to improve their PC customer service experience, using blockchain to add safety and transparency into the supply chain of their critical hardware and software.
Not to be outdone by China’s Lenovo, Taiwan-based HTC announced the Exodus 1 and Exodus 2 (aka 1s) phones, which leverage blockchain to increase data privacy and digital currency safety, as well as running a full bitcoin node (for the s1), a first for smartphones. Going even bigger, the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, Samsung, has released their Galaxy Note 10 blockchain spinoff, the KlaytnPhone.
With its own crypto wallet and DLT app ecosystem, this phone is meant to bring blockchain to the masses. In fact, Samsung has revealed a 10 year strategy with a focus on future technologies – including blockchain, AI and 6G. This follows previous forays from Samsung into the blockchain space, such as their $3 million investment into hardware wallet Ledger, leading to their nascent blockchain platform, Nexledger.
Squire on Its Way to Become Largest Blockchain Miner
Canada-based Squire Mining shifted its focus from being a resource company into cryptocurrencies in order to diversify their services and operations. Thanks to recent partnerships and buys, such as their acquisition of CoinGeek, a crypto mining unit manufacturer, Squire Mining is now set to become the largest blockchain miner in the world. By forseeing the inevitability of enterprises and institutions entering the blockchain landscape, they’re positioning themselves as a turnkey solution for them.
Thanks to all these blockchain news and institutional developments, 2019 has been hailed as the “Year of Enterprise Blockchain”. In 2020, there will likely be even more world-changing blockchain developments, so keep an eye out for more updates on our Blockchain Zoo blog, for a look into the major industry news and project updates.