Who’s in the Forbes Blockchain Top 50?

The Forbes annual Blockchain 50 is on its second outing. It lists the companies making the biggest strides in blockchain, and most of them are valued in the billions of dollars. Indeed, to appear on the list, Forbes says, “To qualify, Blockchain 50 members must be generating no less than $1 billion in revenue annually or be valued at $1 billion or more.

There are some surprising names that turn up in the Blockchain 50, if only because on the face of it they have little to do with blockchain.

For example, De Beers is on the list. The diamond giant’s new software, Tracr, follows diamonds through the supply chain as they are mined, cut, polished and sold and tens of thousands of stones are being registered per month.

Foxconn makes the iPhone trade-finance venture, Chained Finance, pays more than 20 electronics suppliers using digital coins minted on the Ethereum blockchain. As a result the costs have dropped from annual percentage rates as high as 24% to a mere 10%.

Dole Foods is another blockchain adopter. It is using it across all vegetable processing, for millions of pounds of lettuce, spinach and coleslaw. Customers at Walmart can now check where their fruit comes from by scanning a code used by farmers. It is soon expanding this use of blockchain to its fruit.

LVMH, the luxury goods brand, is using blockchain technology for traceability and proof of authenticity. Among its brands, Louis Vuitton is already tracking millions of its products in an effort to reduce counterfeiting.

The United Nations, a 75-year-old organisation is using a number of blockchain initiatives, including one that is intended to combat warlords who steal aid using pilfered ID cards, the UN has over the past two years disbursed funds to 106,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, using blockchain-verified iris scans instead of ID cards.

As Forbes says in its introduction to the Top 50, “Blockchain started as a way to move bitcoin from point A to point B, but it is now being used by a host of big companies to monitor and move any number of assets around the world as easily as sending an email.”

From the instantaneous settlement of German government bonds to verifying the provenance of diamonds mined in Africa and bringing liquidity to a small supplier of sliding shower doors in Zhongshan, China, this year’s members have largely moved beyond the theoretical benefits of blockchain, to generating very real revenues and cost savings.

Cuban and Congress gang up against Libra

Just a few days before the Congressional hearings involving David Marcus, Facebook’s head of the Libra project, Mark Cuban, the billionaire co-host of “Shark Tank”, echoed President Trump’s tweets when he told CNBC that he “wasn’t a big fan” of Libra.

Libra is a gift to despots

There are seemingly quite a few people who agree with Cuban. He referred to the Menlo Park-based social networking company’s foray into distributed ledger tech as a “big mistake.” Most particularly he took aim at what he sees as Libra’s potential to further destabilise unstable economies and political situations worldwide. He said, “Some despot in some African country that gets really upset that they can’t control their currency anymore.” This doesn’t actually make much sense, but these days nobody seems bothered about rational statements.

Yes, Facebook is targeting the 1.7 billion unbanked people worldwide, a factor that David Marcus repeated several times during his first day of giving testimony to US Congress. The Libra Association’s white paper states: “All over the world, people with less money pay more for financial services. Hard-earned income is eroded by fees, from remittances and wire costs to overdraft and ATM charges… When people are asked why they remain on the fringe of the existing financial system, those who remain “unbanked” point to not having sufficient funds, high and unpredictable fees, banks being too far away, and lacking the necessary documentation.”

Cuban takes issue with this: he believes that Libra will unleash “reactionary impacts of extending financial access to the underrepresented.” Presumably he’s referring to that African despot again.

David Marcus is calm and collected

Meanwhile, in Washington, David Marcus looked cool as a cucumber as he took questions from a succession of senators. The primary issues for the lawmakers were those of privacy and trust. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is crypto-unfriendly, asked about Facebook’s willingness to allow data portability: “If a Facebook user wishes to use a wallet other than Calibra, will you make it easy to allow the export of other data?” Marcus unequivocally replied, “Yes,” although he was noticeably more hesitant to respond so forcefully when asked about Messenger and Whatsapp data. Sen. Warren got her knife in some of the way when she concluded her remarks by saying, “what Facebook’s been really good at is figuring out how to monetize people’s personal data […] I am not reassured by your statement that you can not see any reason right now why there would not be any data sharing between these platforms.”

Nobody hammered bitcoin

On the bright side for crypto enthusiasts, Congress appeared to be very careful not to attack bitcoin. As Coindesk remarks, “Bitcoin was barely mentioned during the two-hour session and most of the lawmakers seemed far less concerned with the technology than with who was planning to leverage it: Facebook.” Indeed, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) sounded bullish on blockchain in general, saying, “We shouldn’t prevent what can be a tremendous financial innovation. There is a big potential in blockchain technology.”

How’s the score looking for Facebook’s Libra as the Congressional interrogations resume today? It looks like most news outlets agree that it has the advantage, although they don’t say that in so many words. Congress appears to be more focused on the fact that it is Facebook (and Mark Zuckerberg) who is leading this project than the real potential of Libra. If another company had launched this project, perhaps Congress would be a lot less interested.

The Big Telcos Are On The Blockchain

Blockchain technology offers telecoms companies a valuable tool, and it seems that they have been quick to pick up on its value.

As Benjamin Pirus writes for Forbes, AT&T, and T Mobile are both working with the technology in various ways. Pirus writes, “Blockchain has made a name for itself as the technology underpinning bitcoin, allowing the transfer of value without middlemen. The work of these telecom giants shows that what enterprises think of as “value” is much bigger than just currency alone.”

AT& T is applying blockchain to the supply chain for its handsets. Its CEO, Andy Daudelin, told Pirus that the technology is particularly useful for handling “handset returns, upgrades and other activities seen on the supply chain.”

Daudelin explained: “AT&T’s supply chain is collaborating on a blockchain solution with a major handset OEM [original equipment manufacturer] and a handset remanufacturing supplier. The solution will ensure that only authentic, certified parts are used in the device remanufacturing process.” He added, “addingblockchain to the mix also allows for better traceability of components used in remanufactured devices.”

AT&T is also interested in the blockchain’s security aspects and it is in the process of growing its “Internet of Things [IoT] presence and solutions,” with the intention to involve smart contracts in the mix, as its VP of information security, Karthik Swarnam told Pirus. He also mentioned the potential for using blockchain in the area of “verification of device identity.” And of course for checking the software to ensure no malware is lurking. He described it as “checking on the checksums” for authentication, and the “ability to store the checksums on a blockchain, where, at the time of use, you could go ahead and check and compare and verify whether you can trust that piece of code, trust that piece of software, or not.”

Furthermore, AT& T has been developing a suite of blockchain solutions for its enterprise customers and is working with IBM, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services on this. Daudelin said: “What we do here is deliver your traditional blockchain solution. What we add to that is we’ll customize it and write the code specific to that use case, and we’ll add to that our network and IoT [Internet of Things] capabilities.”

As an example, Daudelin says that AT& T is working with a bottling company to “add notable specifics and clarity to that company’s supply chain, utilizing “IoT sensing” for its bottles.”

Furthermore, in May 2019, AT& T announced that its customers could pay their online bills with bitcoin, via bitcoin payment service BitPay.

Daudelin summed up AT&T’s general view of blockchain:

“As our world moves from highly centralized hierarchical processes to very decentralized processes, blockchain enables companies to deploy solutions that remain highly secure and that you can count on them in this very decentralized decision making the world.”

According to recent research, it appears that the telecoms sector is one where blockchain technology is going to grow at a rapid pace. A March 2019 reportfrom Infoholic Research stated: “The global blockchain in telecom market is expected to witness a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 77.9% to reach revenue of $1.37 billion by 2024.”

Perhaps it will get even bigger?


What retailers want from blockchain

Online retailers and those with bricks and mortar shops want to know how to use blockchain and to establish if it is a better system than the one they use now. Answering these questions is key to getting retailers to adopt blockchain solutions.

As Nikki Baird writes at Forbes, retailers are not so interested in how blockchain works, or how tokens are generated; they simply want to know how blockchain could work for them. Baird states there are three questions they need answered, and they are: Performance, Privacy and Ease of Use.

And as she points out, retailers don’t want to hear from platforms about how they intend to achieve these three things; they just want to have all of them in an operational blockchain.

So far, we’re not at that point; there is a way to go with each of the qualities retailers need to see.

Performance

When we talk about performance in relation to blockchain, we are really talking about scalability. That is the ability to handle lots of transactions, primarily for payments, but advertising is also important for online retailers. With payments, the transaction time can’t be slower than it is with the current system, and to win retailers over it needs to be faster. At the moment neither bitcoin nor ethereum can match Visa’s transaction times.

Privacy

Privacy is an important element of blockchain and cryptocurrency. The whole point of Bitcoin was to create a digital currency that could be traded anonymously, but is it truly anonymous?

Even if you don’t know who owns bitcoin, you can observe their behaviour on the blockchain. There are even businesses that track bitcoin usage and use the info to identify anonymous owners. This flaw is something that needs to be addressed, so that there is greater privacy on the blockchain, but without sacrificing scalability.

Baird writes, “For retailers, there is the additional issue of personally identifiable information and GDPR, Europe’s regulations around consumer privacy.”

Her answer to the issue is: “Blockchain has the potential to make all of that much easier, if we can evolve to a place where consumers can use blockchain to store their personal information, and decide and control which companies have access to which pieces of information.”

But as she points out, there are lots of hurdles to leap over before we arrive at this point, including identifying who is providing the service and doing more on the security of passwords.

Ease of Use

This is very important in a retail environment. And it is the one element that has been addressed more fully than the others. Baird highlights those companies that “bring blockchain to consumers without making it readily apparent that they are based on blockchain,” and “crypto wallets that make it easier to navigate between traditional and crypto currencies.”

Retailers are traditionally quite conservative, and the blockchain is still not mature enough to win them over. As Baird says, “For blockchain to make a difference in retail, it has to be much more about the experience than the technology.”

Blockchain will get there, but it isn’t ready yet!