Chinese Giant Ant Financial Reveals the Upcoming Launch of its Blockchain Network

Chinese payment services Ant Financial – a subsidiary of e-commerce giant Alibaba and operator of Alipay – is set to launch its enterprise-focused Ant Blockchain Open Alliance platform this month.

According to local media outlets on January 8th, Guofei Jiang, vice president of Ant Financial, announced the news at the company’s annual media meeting. He further revealed that the blockchain platform had been available in beta form since last November and will be launched soon as a fully operational chain.

Jiang claims the platform will be the first open alliance chain to share platform user rights that will help small and micro enterprises to develop as well as launch their own blockchain applications at a lower cost. He further added that the platform can support 1 billion daily transactions as well as achieve 100,000 cross-chain information processing capabilities per second.

According to the company, the Ant blockchain open alliance has helped resolve trust issues across 40 sectors, including cross-border remittances and trade finance.

The platform had been announced by Jiang in September 2018, stating at that time the project came to be to help improve the technology as well as expand the company’s in-house technologies to the wider commercial sector.

Ant Blockchain Open Alliance was then beta-launched in November 2019, with key words such as low-cost, low-threshold, trusted and multi-value networks. Once the beta testing had begun, Ant Finacial senior director of technology and business innovation Jieli Li carefully used the word “open” for the blockchain platform, saying that whilst the platform’s name does include the word ‘open’, not everyone would be able to run the network’s nodes.

 “As for the selection of node operators, we are more cautious. […] Because to form a credible value network, not only do they need to be a consensus accounting node, but they also need to provide authoritative endorsements,” Jieli said at the time.

In the meantime, vice president Jiang believes blockchain to be the most valuable technology in the current era, explaining that the technology will change people’s productivity and life and mobile payments and will ultimately become the infrastructure of the digital economy.

Ant Financial has been steadily diversifying its blockchain investments over the years. In 2018, same month that the company had announced the Ant Blockchain Open Alliance platform, the company also launched its blockchain-as-a-service platform, having trialed its first-ever blockchain remittances in the summer of 2018, using its new blockchain-based electronic wallet cross border remittance service.

In 2019, Ant Financial expanded its involvement in global blockchain development by taking part in a $10 million Series A round for an Israeli blockchain privacy solutions firm that develops zero-knowledge proof (ZKP) technology.

In addition to that, the company has also joined hands with pharmaceutical giant Bayer Crop Science, to create a blockchain solution for the food and crop industry.

Korean Crypto Exchange Bithumb Launches Blockchain Research Center

Major South Korean cryptocurrency exchange – Bithumb – has announced the launch of its own research and development (R&D) center.

The exchange made an announcement, stating that it will be setting up a research center in an effort to strengthen blockchain technology and exchange operation. According to an exchange official, Bithumb is the first company in South Korea with a research center dedicated to blockchain and cryptocurrency analysis. The newly established center will start its activities this month.

He further added:

“The center will help the firm become a blockchain-based comprehensive financial platform whose service will encompass big data, security and online trading systems,” he added.

The new research and development center will be comprised of 30 members and will consist of three divisions, each specializing in blockchain, architecture and overall development. The firm further added that IT experts will join the center over the next few months.

Firstly, the blockchain research division will focus on analyzing public blockchain transactions as well as private keys with the goal of strengthening its system security. The team will create a private key security protection technology, which will allow the securing and safe storage of private keys.

Private keys are otherwise known as secret keys, which are a highly secure variable in cryptography used with an algorithm for encryption and decryption of codes.

Blockchain analysis will also source cryptocurrency transactions, meaning the team will be analyzing blockchains in order to isolate cryptocurrency trading transactions and develop a system to better manage user addresses and deposits/withdrawals on its exchange platform.

In the meantime, the architecture team will focus on developing a high-performance transaction matching system that can process simultaneously large volume transactions without technical difficulties.

Additionally, the research team will also work on high-availability and high-performance data exchange between blockchains and databases, which will ultimately improve the operation speed as well as maximize the usage of stored data.

Last but not least, the development team will be tasked with setting up an application programming interface (API) gateway for its crypto trading platform in order to strengthen the service interface efficiency. Overall, Bithumb’s main goal is convenient user security with key functions of streamlined verification processes and easy user experience.

Following the announcement, the exchange expressed high hopes for the research center’s impact on the company:

“Bithumb will become a leading company in the blockchain and cryptocurrency ecosystem by strengthening its own R&D capabilities.”

Meanwhile, Bithumb is not the only one investing in the research of blockchain and digital assets. Certainly, with the rapid growth of this new sector and its potential, it is natural that more companies pour funds into relevant research.

Chinese multinational conglomerate Tencent – the operator of Chinese social media app WeChat – is also planning to create a digital currency research group for the further advancement of blockchain technology research projects.

According to Chinese state-run publication Xinhua, the nation’s spending on blockchain technology will exceed $2 billion in 2023. Likewise, a report published in September 2019 by market research firm Global Market Insights suggests that the global blockchain technology market is set to surpass $16 billion by 2024.

Ethereum Completes Hard Fork to Delay Difficulty Bomb

The Ethereum network has completed the Muir Glacier hard fork on January 2, although it was scheduled for the first day of the year.

The Muir Glacier update with its sole improvement proposal (EIP 2384) was activated at block number 9,200,000. The only purpose of the update is to delay the notorious difficulty bomb for Ethereum, a built-in algorithm of the blockchain that could suddenly increase the mining difficulty if left unchecked. The Muir Glacier update will delay the difficulty bomb for another 4,000,000 blocks, which represents approximately 610 days.

The network upgrade is a necessary step, since the performance of the Ethereum blockchain started to slow down with block generation time increasing on average.

After 2018 and 2019, this is the third difficulty bomb delay deployed on the Ethereum network. The Muir Glacier is also a quick-fix update due to a miscalculation when planning Istanbul according to the core developers of the network.

The developer community estimated the difficulty bomb to become noticeable in mid-2020, but performance issues started to appear in October 2019, forcing the community to address the issue sooner.

This latest fork in Ethereum 1.0 has been hard coded to ensure that the network maintains an average block time by adjusting the mining difficulty that is required to produce new blocks.

The Ethereum network will have another 610 days of optimal performance until the difficulty bomb issue re-surfaces. The Ethereum community plans to release Ethereum 2.0 by that point, making the difficulty bomb obsolete. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen whether Ethereum 2.0 is close to being deployed and if its launch will take place smoothly.

The update didn’t complete as quickly as expected, since the timing of the latest improvement was unfortunate.

Node operators and developers were advised to prepare for the hard fork before the holidays by upgrading their nodes and downloading the latest versions. However, there are still some clients unprepared for the Muir Glacier fork.

Fortunately, all major exchanges have provided support for the latest hard fork, meaning that users will not be in any way affected by the update.

Turkish Settlement Bank Launches Blockchain-Based System for Gold

Turkey’s Istanbul Clearing, Settlement and Custody Bank (Takasbank) announced that its blockchain-based, physical gold-backed system is now live.

Takasbank developed BiGA Digital Gold to provide an option for a blockchain-based system for gold. Mainly targeted towards banks and institutional investors, with BiGA, gold can now be traded in a digitized form according to the official announcement.

The BiGA system was first announced in September 2019. It allows participating banks to use blockchain for quick and easy settlement of digital assets that represent a unit of physical gold. According to specifications, each unit asset represents one gram of gold that is stored in vaults of the Borsa Istanbul (BIST) Turkish stock exchange.

The project aims to put into application blockchain technology to benefit from quick and easy settlements, while preserving full regulatory compliance. Thus, BiGA enables access to the gold markets via digital assets that are fully-backed by the commodity. Speaking to Turkish news agency AA, Takasbank officials said:

“This platform distinguishes itself from many similar projects in the world by allowing the use of blockchain technology to transfer digital assets based on physical commodities, not having any value of its own, and ensuring full compliance with existing regulations.”

According to Takasbank the BiGA Digital Gold platform has seen a list of banks joining in their efforts. Financial institutions, including state lenders Ziraat and Vakif, private lender Garanti BBVA, and private and state banks Albaraka Turk, Kuveyt Turk, and Ziraat Participation, have joined the ranks of the project.

Takasbank as a clearing and settlement house in Turkey, provides counterparty clearing services for particular markets and is under the supervision of financial regulatory agency, the Capital Markets Board of Turkey.

This is not the first attempt at digitizing the gold commodity, with most notable efforts coming from Paxos, with its PAX Gold token that is also fully backed by the commodity stored in London vaults.

The trend for applying blockchain technology has been well-received in Turkey, and the country’s efforts put it ahead of a row of competing economies. In September 2018, BIST developed a blockchain-based system to improve financial data transfers in collaboration with Takasbank and the Central Securities Depository of Turkey.

Besides the steady growth of blockchain infrastructure, Turkish officials have hinted that a blockchain-based digital Turkish Lira may be ready for testing in the upcoming year.

Tencent Reportedly Forming a Digital Currency Research Group

Tencent – owner of communications and payment app WeChat – has announced that is planning to create a digital currency research group with the goal to further the advancement of blockchain technology research projects.

Tencent Goes for Blockchain Push

According to Chinese media outlets, the $461 billion Chinese Internet giant issued an internal statement notifying employees on December 23rd, which revealed that the company is currently looking for the new head of the research team. However, we have yet to hear an official statement from the company, as they did not respond to media outlets‘request for comments.

In the meantime, this upcoming digital currency research group will reportedly focus on Tencent’s progress of blockchain technology in the digital payment industry.

Based on the circulating internal document, Tencent’s first objective appears to be to improve and strengthen the national blockchain initiative of the Chinese government with relevant technologies and solutions.

For instance, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is expected to use blockchain as one of its key technologies for data processing and storage. Firms like Tencent would aim to assist the government of China to efficiently implement blockchain technology.

However, following the news, analysts have wondered how WeChat, as well as its competitor, Alibaba-owned AliPay, will get along with the Central Bank of China, which is soon launching the country’s official cryptocurrency.

Chinese Blockchain Efforts Across the Board

WeChat Pay and AliPay account for nearly half of China’s enormous mobile pay business, which is used by more than 580 million people.  Previously, China’s Central Bank had already disclosed the two companies are amongst the first to be receiving the digital currency.

Meanwhile, Tencent recently announced a new partnership with the world’s largest diamond mining firm – Russia’s Alrosa –  alongside blockchain platform Everledger with the goal to launch a new diamond-focused retail mini-program targeted at WeChat’s one billion active users.

As such, the collaboration aims to improve transparency and consumer trust across the diamond supply chain, allowing social media users to purchase diamonds with full knowledge of their origin, characteristics as well as ownership history.

Tencent has also had a hand in developing an invoice system based on blockchain technology for the city of Shenzhen. In November, Shenzhen’s tax service reported that over 10 million blockchain-based invoices had been issued in the Chinese tech capital and that it will continue to actively promote blockchain-enabled electronic billing.

The blockchain based invoice service has been used by over 7,600 companies, across multiple sectors such as local finance, insurance, hotel catering and parking services, comprising a total value of close to $1 billion.