It’s another week of bad news for Facebook’s Libra token, but Zurich and Venezuela are seeing some positive results from crypto adoption.
- A team of Venezuelans are working on a Bitcoin mesh network designed to be used offline.
- Meanwhile, in Zurich, a $134 building was partially purchased with cryptocurrency, making it the largest real estate transaction to use digital currency.
- Libra loses another investor as telecommunications firm Vodafone exits the project.
- Quebec finally made a block of hydroelectric power available for miners, but is it too late to attract interest?
Despite going through an economic crisis — or perhaps because of it — Venezuelans have found themselves turning to cryptocurrency as an alternative to the low-value local currency. Because of infrastructure, however, locals don’t always have the utilities we rely on to buy and sell tokens, namely the internet. A team of crypto advocates is hoping to give more Venezuela natives access to digital currency by creating a bitcoin-based mesh network powered by offline radios, which would bypass the internet completely if implemented as planned.
The group is led by Randy Brito, who’s also a member of the Bitcoin Venezuela organization. As Brito put it, “We are making something for the situations where you don’t have internet at all, either due to lack of infrastructure, targeted censorship,” or in cases where users would want to protect their identities. Here’s how the project, called Locha Mesh, works: using two devices called Turpial and Harpia, users could connect to the blockchain using radio waves. While Turpial is a simpler version that emulates a radio transmitter, Harpia is designed to work on small computers (think Raspberry Pi).
This is all theoretical at the moment; Turpial and Harpia are still in development, and Locha Mesh “still requires internet access at some point in the network to connect to the worldwide cryptocurrency nodes.” Still, it’s a promising project that could give Venezuelan citizens a lifeline in difficult economic times.
Speaking with Cointelegraph, Brito explained that the network wouldn’t necessarily rely on nodes connected to the internet via landline. Users with satellite dishes would also be able to act as gateways and retransmit the data within the Locha mesh.
When asked whether users in crisis-stricken countries like Venezuela would be able to afford and access the device, Brito replied:
“We don’t expect it to be that high on price, our aim is to make the Turpial device as portable and affordable as possible. It will be possible to buy them from any country, in places where it cannot be shipped to we’ll have plenty of documentation so people can build their own, and maybe some individuals would like to get some of our Turpial devices into those places we may not be able to reach ourselves.”
However, the team’s progress is still slow. A production-ready device is expected to be completed by Q2 2020, after which a further delay is expected for setting up manufacturing. The team is currently seeking funding, with Brito noting that additional resources would speed up development:
“We think so. With more funding we’d be able to get to a production-ready hardware and software sooner, just as we’ve been able to get to our own hardware revisions and the needed software-firmwares with the investments and donations we’ve received throughout 2019.”
Like several other European Union countries, Switzerland has established itself as a cryptocurrency haven, and its largest city Zurich is reaping the benefits. Recently, a Swiss real estate investment firm bought a majority stake in Bahnhofstrasse 52 partially using BrickMark tokens, which run on the Ethereum protocol.
According to Architectural Digest, Bahnofstrasse 52 is an exclusive property located on a high-end shopping boulevard — think Rodeo Drive, but more Swiss. The digital currency represented about 20% of the total purchase price, which at around $26 million is nothing to sneeze at. In a press release, BrickMark CEO Stephan Rind claimed, “There has never been a token-based real estate transaction of this magnitude.”
The use of a blockchain-backed token is just a gimmick — it’s a dynamic method for securely funding a real estate transaction that woos investors with the prospect of both immediate and more sustainable value. As opposed to a pure cash deal, BrickMark token holders have the opportunity to collect recurring payments of rental income from the 1,600-square-meter property, and the BrickMark tokens potentially become another salable portfolio asset for RFR. While the use of a digital currency might seem baffling, RFR’s willingness to accept tens of millions of dollars worth of payment in BrickMark tokens suggests there’s serious merit to these sorts of deals going forward.
“We gladly accepted the Brickmark tokens as part of the purchase price,” RFR managing director Alexander Koblischek said in conjunction with BrickMark’s announcement. “We assume that digital financial instruments will also significantly gain in importance in the real estate sector in the future. The current transaction may have an icebreaker function for the sector in terms of its volume and institutional character.”
While it’s the largest deal of its kind, this is far from the first time real estate has changed hands in this manner. An early Chinese Bitcoin adopter sold 500 units of the pricey digital currency to buy a San Francisco mansion in 2018. At the height of the 2017 bubble, The Bloody Bay Company would let you only buy 13 acres of land in St. Vincent and the Grenadines using Bitcoin, though it’s unclear if there were any takers before its value tanked.
It’s been another rough week for Libra, the Facebook cryptocurrency that’s been under fire since its official announcement in June 2019. To recap, the token, which hasn’t even launched yet, has drawn heavy criticism from both United States and European regulators, and several of its original investors have since exited the project. So far, Libra has lost eBay, Mastercard, PayPal, Visa, and several others, and now there’s another founding investor on that list: telecommunications conglomerate Vodafone.
Vodafone issued a simple statement about its decision to exit the Libra Association: “Vodafone Group has decided to withdraw from the Libra Association. We will continue to monitor the development of the Libra Association and do not rule out the possibility of future cooperation.” Instead, Vodafone will focus on its own mobile payment solution.
Libra confirmed the report about Vodafone on Tuesday. “Although the makeup of the association members may change over time,” a spokesperson said, “the design of Libra’s governance and technology ensures the Libra payment system will remain resilient.”
Libra is a proposed global digital coin that’ll be managed by the Libra Association, a de facto monetary authority that Facebook hoped would have as many as 100 partners by the time it’s scheduled to launch next year. The members were expected to run nodes to help facilitate transactions on the Libra network, and cough up $10 million to get Libra going. Some of the remaining initial members include Uber, Coinbase, Lyft and Spotify.
Vodafone said in an emailed statement that it will continue “extending financial inclusion” through its mobile payments service M-Pesa, which was launched in Kenya in 2007 and is now present in 10 countries including Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Lesotho and Mozambique.
Last year, Quebec set aside a huge block of hydroelectric power specifically intended to draw cryptocurrency miners to the region. While the Canadian province hoped that this would establish the area as an industry powerhouse, it didn’t quite work as intended. According to a report published earlier this week, utility provider Hydro-Québec only ended up granting one-fifth of the total block of energy aside for crypto mining. This has led some to wonder if Quebec has missed its chance to be a great crypto haven.
Quebec has long been uninterested in the business and technology of blockchain, with Premier Philippe Couillard stating in 2018 that he wasn’t interested in attracting miners. Speaking with Cointelegraph back then, he said, “If you want to come settle here, plug in your servers and do bitcoin mining, we’re not really interested… There needs to be added value for our society; just having servers to do transaction mining and acquire new bitcoins, I don’t see the added value.”
The local government even went so far as to issue a moratorium on selling energy to blockchain miners, which was lifted shortly after Couillard made his comments to Cointelegraph. However, it might be a case of too little, too late; crypto enthusiasts appear to have moved on.
By the end of June 2018, Hydro-Québec had proposed new rules, under which blockchain companies must bid for power resources, and quantify the jobs and investment they intended to provide in the area, but local officials refused to ratify it.
Instead, the provincial power regulator Régie de l’énergie ruled to reserve a 300MW block for crypto mining.
Jonathan Hamel, the founder and president of Acadamie Bitcoin — a crypto consulting service — told Cointelegraph that Hydro-Québec had dramatically overstated the purported power demand from miners:
“During the Quebec Energy Board hearings in June 2018, Hydro-Québec stated that they received more than 16,000MW equivalent of demand for Bitcoin mining to date. That number was completely debunked by invited Bitcoin miners and experts. Hydro-Québec finally admitted that the ‘serious’ demand was somewhere around 1,000MW.”
That’s the roundup for January 25, 2020. Check in next week for the latest news of cryptocurrency innovation and regulation around the world!
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