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Blockchain-Based InsurTech Gains Traction

Blockchain-Based InsurTech Gains Traction

More insurers are joining the cryptocurrency industry through blockchain-based insurtech startup B3i in an ongoing funding round, according to news outlet Tokenpost.

B3i started out as a consortium of five insurers and reinsurers to include Aegon, Allianz, Munich Re, Swiss Re, and Zurich, established to create value for the re/insurance industry through distributed ledger technology. In its latest funding round, it added three new insurers and reinsurers, thereby expanding its shareholders to 16, which includes some of the top insurance companies from across Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Chairman of B3i and Group head of business transformation at Zurich Insurance Company Ltd, Antony Elliot said B3i community and network spans over 40 companies who represent “over half of the world’s reinsurance premium and major primary insurers”, thereby showing a significant interest from the insurance world.

The company seems to be living up to its expectation of building a community of shareholders who will drive value in the blockchain-insurance niche. “Following incorporation, B3i will grow its community of shareholders, partners, and customers and create an ecosystem of products and services developed by the market, for the market”, according to its website.

The company continues to experience funding success following its USD 6.35 million raise in March 2018 after its incorporation. As the consortium targets Q4 for the release of their product, it plans to grow the community even further. Overall, the company seemed pleased with the achievements so far, as Antony expressed:

“We are pleased to have strong ongoing financial and strategic support from the insurance industry. the company looks forward to addressing critical industry needs.”

Blockchain-based insurance has been identified as one of the five major tech trends that will reshape the insurance industry, as an EY report finds that:

“FinTech and InsurTechs have made significant inroads by designing powerful but focused applications that solve specific problems and deliver high-quality and intuitive digital experiences.”

As insurtech and blockchain threaten legacy insurance systems, “tomorrow’s insurance leaders must prepare for the adoption of blockchain and big data…”, the report suggested.

In December last year, US-based insurance company State Farm began a blockchain trial to settle insurance related cases aimed at streamlining the manual process of subrogation. Also, in Zimbabwe, an official of the Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC) recommended blockchain technology as an industry solution to failing insurance companies.

Bitcoin News recently reported how ignorance is one of the major hindrances to blockchain and cryptocurrency-related insurance adoption, and further heightened by the level of risk exposure in the industry, only a few insurers are willing to provide their services to crypto-related businesses. Further, a value in flight is expected to be a focal point for companies willing to adopt insurance, as other aspects may prove useful in the long run.

However, the increasing involvement from insurance companies seems to be encouraging. Perhaps this alongside other blockchain driven insurance startups may change the scape of insurance in the emerging digital asset class and its underpinning technology.


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Cisco Takes Aim at $10 Billion Enterprise Blockchain Market

Cisco Takes Aim at  Billion Enterprise Blockchain Market

US-based telecommunications equipment manufacturer Cisco Systems has set its eye on enterprise blockchain solutions on the premise that the market an approach an approximate USD 10 billion by 2021.

In recent times, more brick and mortar companies have lauded the ability of blockchain technology and continue to show support for its development. In the report Blockchain by Cisco, the technology is described as having the ability to enable multiple parties to reach an agreement on the authenticity of a transaction in a decentralized manner.

Trust being a central theme in the function of the blockchain as it maintains a traceable, irrefutable and secure system of record keeping; Cisco suggests the greatest innovation brought by the blockchain is its automated trust system. The report reads:

“Participants can directly use the blockchain as the source of truth instead of one another… The Economist refers to this capability as the “trust machine” that will fundamentally transform the way we do business.”

The report further indicated that as emerging technologies such as internet of things (IoT) take root in the global economy, they pose a potential security threat to about 20 billion IoT devices by 2020. This will only make blockchain solutions more significant. More so, the complexity of financial systems in global trades and the lack of transparency in supply chain markets makes blockchain utility a necessity.

As blockchain continues to grow it could play a larger role in the world’s economy soon, the report states that “10% of global GDP that is likely to be stored on blockchains by 2027” is one of the possible scenarios as the industry matures.

Another interesting insight provided by the report inferred that programmable economy is expected to deliver efficiencies and new business value in excess of USD 3 trillion by 2030… driven primarily by improved cash flow, asset provenance, and native asset creation, as well as new trust-based business models, qualities right in the ballpark of blockchain technology.

Other reports such as the increase in blockchain hiring and spending further buttress the perspective provided by Cisco, as the technology continues to evolve while business processes are simply playing catch-up.

Cisco as with other top tech conglomerates is staking a part of its corporate resource into the future of both decentralized and permissioned blockchain economy. Its debut into blockchain began with its patent filing to copyright the use of blockchain in tracking IoT devices followed by its other patent for an innovative group chat on the blockchain. Further, it has 14 innovation centers across the globe, with the most recent launched in Southeast Asia.

The tech firm aims to accelerate the adoption of enterprise-grade blockchain solutions by “bringing together a world-class ecosystem of partners and alliances to deliver a true Internet-scale trust network”, according to their enterprise blockchain platform. It is currently building an enterprise-grade blockchain solution designed as a composable platform architecture.

IBM and Microsoft are other tech giants pushing the frontier of enterprise-grade solutions. Huawei technologies had also recently inferred that it was staging Hong Kong as a blockchain hub for future economic impact. It appears that this emerging niche of enterprise-grade blockchains could become a unique bi-product of a once thought to be a speculation-ridden ecosystem.


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Exclusive: College Student Claims to Have Cracked Bitcoin Mixing Services

College Student Claims to Have Cracked Bitcoin Mixing Services

A college student has claimed to have successfully cracked the algorithm behind most centralized Bitcoin mixing services. Using his methods, he says he can backtrack all transaction history done by the service providers.

In an interview with Bitcoin News, Ruhr-Universität Bochum student Felix Maduakor explained how he carried out a study to assess the privacy levels of Bitcoin mixing services. In doing so, he discovered vulnerabilities in the algorithms used by centralized Bitcoin mixing services such that transactions supposedly thought to have become anonymized through the mixing algorithms of such platforms can be traced back to the source. He says that this proves the algorithms being used by centralized mixing services are inefficient in terms of security when compared to either decentralized mixing services or privacy-centric cryptocurrencies.

His study proves that the major mixing services tested at the time contained “trivial bugs” such as timing attacks and leakages that, attackers could manipulate to deanonymize past transactions processed by these services. He further claims that even if these implementation faults were fixed, every transaction processed prior to the fix is “irreversibly vulnerable”.

Bitcoin mixing or tumbling

Bitcoin has been described as a pseudonymous cryptocurrency since the transactions conducted on the blockchain are open to the public, and perhaps with a skilled programmer, such digital transactions can be traced back to the source. In an attempt to provide more privacy to the nature of Bitcoin transfers over the blockchain, a technique called Bitcoin mixing has often been used, which basically swaps user bitcoins with each other with the aim of reducing traceability.

However, as Maduakor notes, while the implementation of P2P mixing algorithms in Bitcoin clients could enhance privacy in Bitcoin, most of these algorithms based on the decentralized architecture such as Coinshuffle ++ introduced by Tim Ruffing, Pedro Moreno-Sanchez and Aniket Kate are not widely adopted.

In his opinion, the algorithms should be implemented in the wallet software, and if it were to be added to the Bitcoin core, it would have made a huge difference. However, according to Madu, the Bitcoin core developers do not yet see the need for such a feature, citing concerns that it could hinder the growth of Bitcoin.

To date, most Bitcoin users who want additional privacy for their transactions have resorted to using commercially-driven centralized mixing — also known as tumbling — services, which according to Maduakor, aren’t so effective after all.

Why privacy matters

Contrary to popular opinions about privacy-centric cryptocurrencies, in the digital world, privacy is of utmost importance because a leak in a string of information can lead to a cascade of misuse. Maduakor’s opinion about Bitcoin’s privacy provides a rather balanced approach to the concept:

“If Bitcoin is [to be] used as a [global] currency/payment token, it has to provide some sort of privacy. Otherwise, everyone could check the exact salary, production costs, etc. on the blockchain. The leakage of cash flow [information] can have a huge impact on a company, its partners and customers.”

Many governments have expressed their concerns about privacy-centric cryptocurrencies and for good cause, as cryptocurrencies from the get-go have been unfairly associated with unlawful activities such as money laundering and terrorist financing. Moreover, anonymizing transactions through Bitcoin mixing services could conceal the real origins of Bitcoins and make it hard to detect if it were from the darknet or stolen from a cryptocurrency exchange. Other strong proponents of decentralization have suggested cryptocurrency privacy to be a fundamental human right.

Should cryptocurrencies gain mainstream advantage and anonymity features, it could complicate the jobs of law enforcement agencies. While it does seem to be a dilemma, a middle ground would be certainly hard to come by. However, the option of having privacy features remains a top priority for internet-based activities, as security and data protection are important commodities in the ecosystem.

Are centralized mixing services doomed?

Maduakor’s approach involved identifying the characteristics of the transactions such as version, fee, timing, lock-time, sequence number as well as transaction signing and how the signing was done by a major mixer at the time,, followed by filtering of more than 99% of the blockchain data which were not connected to the mixing process. From the data obtained, he was able to detect the input transactions (source of funds) and the output transactions (anonymized coins).

His findings bore significant peculiarity because while is currently offline, the historic transactions done by the mixing service could still be traced. Moreover, with modifications on the approach, nearly all centralized mixing service out there could be deanonymized, as he was able to break the transactions done by, bitblender, and helix using a similar approach.

The interesting conclusion isn’t just about the mapping of transactions, which invariably may be of interest to law enforcement, but the nature of the mixing as regards the provider. In the near future, it would be easy to associate a transaction log to a mixing service provider.

Alternate privacy solutions

Knowing that centralized Bitcoin mixing services have a loophole in their algorithms, alternatively, privacy-centric cryptocurrencies may be the best option for users of cryptocurrency. Even though Zcash and Monero have different approaches to achieving privacy, still their algorithms are superior to those of centralized mixing services.

Maduakor noted that a decentralized mixing service would have also been a good alternative, as they not only remove centralized entities who “steal your coins” but also have “higher levels of security since their implementation requires no black boxes”. He also thinks that would have been more secure if it were open source.


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EU-Regulated Bank Frick Launches DLT Markets for Institutional Investors

EU-Regulated Bank Frick Launches DLT Markets for Institutional Investors

One of the European leaders in blockchain banking, Bank Frick, announced last week that it will be starting up a subsidiary service to provide a secure environment for institutional investors to trade in digital assets.

The bank said it is introducing a digital asset marketplace dubbed DLT Markets with the regulatory properties of the traditional financial market. It will provide institutional investors with professional access to cryptocurrencies being traded on multiple exchanges.

CEO of DLT Markets Roger Wurzel said:

“We are creating a unique market offering for institutional investors in the area of the new digital token asset class. With our fully regulated platform, we are driving professionalism with regard to the trading of digital tokens and cryptocurrencies.”

This appears to be the second blockchain-related initiative of the bank, following the recently established Distributed Ventures AG – a subsidiary tasked with promoting and financing fintech and blockchain start-ups – the bank clearly wants a stake in the future digital assets market, as CEO of Bank Frick Edi Wögerer explains: “In establishing The DLT Markets AG, we are significantly building on our leading position in the area of regulated blockchain banking.”

Evidently, the digital asset ecosystem has become a gold rush for institutional investments and while regulatory framework and a secure custody solution may be holding some back, many financial service operators are seeking for ways to stake a place in the emerging market.

Bank Frick is a private bank based in Liechtenstein with a branch that operates in the UK. It has nearly two decades of financial service experiences offered to intermediaries such as fiduciaries, asset managers, payment service providers, and fintechs. Its services include custody of crypto assets, and as per the statement, the bank supports initial coin offerings. Earlier in February, it announced an official partnership with blockchain advisory AmaZix, as part of a drive towards mainstream adoption in blockchain banking services.

Many other financial institutions are participating in the blockchain economy.

Fidelity Investments, with over half a century’s worth of experience in the financial market, whose recent valuation was estimated to be worth USD 2.46 trillion in asset under management (AUM), has launched crypto subsidiary Fidelity Digital Asset Services to provide institutional grade crypto asset custody and cryptocurrency trading services. More so, a deadline has been set for March for the release of its Bitcoin custody solution.

Also, US investment bank JPMorgan recently launched its own JPM Coin, a digital coin backed by the US dollar meant for internal money settlements between its clients. Although it may have received many criticisms from crypto enthusiasts, the gesture remains one of clear certification that blockchain and its underlying asset classes are revolutionary to the traditional financial marketplace.

Last year, top cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced that it was adding a sub-account feature to attract institutional investors. US-centered crypto exchange Coinbase also launched its over-the-counter (OTC) trading service for institutional investors. And most recently, New York-based digital asset management firm Grayscale Investstment LLC reported an increase in the number of institutional investors making up 66% of its portfolio under management.

Certainly, it’s turning out to be a bouquet of institutional grade digital investment niche, and with so many to choose from, the industry will perhaps be the replacement venture to traditional finance as many have speculated it to be.


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Rakuten May Soon Accept Crypto Payments

Japan’s Amazon-analog Rakuten, in its last earnings report, has announced that it will be releasing new features on its pay mobile app which may supposedly allow its users make use of cryptocurrency transactions through the gateway in the near future.

Rakuten didn’t directly say that it would accept cryptocurrencies, however, it did give a hint that all payment options will be accepted and since it already owns a subsidiary that offers cryptocurrency service, hence the possibility of it accepting crypto payments on its app when the upgraded features are released in March.

Rakuten’s involvement in crypto was established when it acquired local crypto exchange Everybody’s Bitcoin last year and was of the opinion that cryptocurrency-based payments will revolutionize the e-commerce industry.

Cryptocurrency payments on e-commerce platforms are thought to be one of the revolutionary hallmarks of cryptocurrency that may usher it into mainstream usage. Up until recently, only a few stores accepted crypto payments and most of these were sponsored by enthusiasts themselves.

As for mainstream stores, it remains to be known what’s keeping them from accepting cryptocurrency payments. More so, a sample survey showed how an average of 3% of Americans used Bitcoin for purchases. Perhaps it has something to do with volatility and the fact that in most jurisdictions, crypto regulatory status is either uncertain or outright banned. However, for Japanese crypto enthusiasts, the possibility of this development by Rakuten may have a positive impact on the industry.

E-commerce shoppers continue to show enthusiasm towards cryptocurrency adoption, although it might take a while before the industry has fully permeated the e-commerce niche. More so, a recent survey showed that 12.7% of Amazon customers would like to see the marketplace selling cryptocurrency products or services.


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Blockchain To Bring Transparency and Wealth to Coffee Farmers in Ethiopia

Blockchain To Bring Transparency and Wealth to Coffee Farmers in Ethiopia (1)

Reuters reported earlier today on the initiative of a roastery in Ethiopia under the brand Moyee to use blockchain in supply chain management and improve coffee farmers’ incentive.

Most coffee exporters process the beans elsewhere and among other things, price fluctuations make the business an uphill battle for farmers. Despite the business being a very lucrative one, most farmers in the area are left at the bottom of the earning chain.

More so, “One reason why buyers from faraway places or different countries go through middlemen is because they rely on them to make sure farmers are following these good practices,” says Vijay Kandy whose company will build the blockchain platform.

Co-founder of Moyee Coffee Killian Stokes said “It’s the world’s favorite drink. We drink over 2 billion cups a day,” and being a huge industry, it’s rather bizarre that farmers are treated the worst. “The industry’s worth USD 100 billion and yet 90 percent of coffee farmers in Ethiopia live on less than USD 2 a day,” Stokes added.

In an attempt to bring economic relief to farmers, Moyee created unique digital identities for 350 farmers working with the company. The aim was to create transparency and allow buyers access to how much each farmer was being paid. Despite the prices being 20% higher than market prices, still farmers’ livelihood could still be improved, at least that’s what Moyee thinks since it wants to introduce blockchain to its business.

According to the company’s blog, it had been working on a prototype with bext360 and the FairChain Foundation since November 2017, and said that blockchain will “bring about a revolution in transparency that certification programs cannot currently offer.”

Blockchain continues to offer traceability, transparency, and trust which break barriers in economic distribution, and also promises to be the future technology of supply chain. Further, its underlying asset class – cryptocurrency – creates value as an incentive instrument for most business environments, and now, Moyee intends to apply that logic to the Coffee supply chain.

Blockchain will open up a new economic model for the farmers, allowing buyers to tip farmers, fund projects using a mobile app. Also, every transaction across the supply chain will be logged to the blockchain, ensuring transparency.

In a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, it concluded that emerging technologies like the blockchain in the agricultural sector shows promise of inclusive market participation for smallholders and Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs).

Blockchain innovations in the agricultural sector transcend technological benefits in managing supply chains alone, however, it has an overwhelming socio-economic impact. “It’s an innovation that is poised to empower local farmers in the Caribbean region,” said Pamela Thomas, executive director of the Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI) referring to the blockchain initiative to be adopted by fruit farmers in the Caribbean.

Apart from economic empowerment, blockchain has phased its way into improving food safety, export security and animal welfare as to be demonstrated by BeefLedger in its partnership with Australia’s National Transport Insurance (NTI) to trial blockchain monitoring of beef handling from Australia to Shanghai.


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Bank of Korea: CBDC Could Threaten Commercial Bank Stability

CBDC Could Threaten Financial Stability of Commercial Banks, Says Bank of Korea

The Bank of Korea (BOK) has said that the introduction of a state-owned and issued digital currency in the form of central bank digital currency (CBDC) in South Korea could possibly zero-out commercial banks, reports Yonhap News Agency.

According to the source, the BOK published a report expressing concerns with low deposits demands into commercial banks that may result from the implementation of a state-backed CBDC into the financial system.

Kwon Oh-ik, one of the co-authors of the report, wrote: “The CBDC is a kind of a BOK-issued bank account. People trust it more than one in a commercial bank”. This implied that as customers are likely to trust the blockchain-based currency type backed by the BOK as opposed to the legacy form of money transfer and handling, this might lead to low liquidity in such commercial banks as customers withdraw their money. This would invariably shoot up interest rates.

Commercial banks are largely dependent on the loan infrastructure and if deposit services reduce, making it hard for the banks to have access to liquid cash for loan maintenance, then interest rates will then go up. Invariably, that may reduce patronage and consequently reduce the businesses of such banks.

Banks around the world have been discussing different application models for blockchain and cryptocurrencies. One such possibility involves CBDC, and talks about facilitating cross-border payment infrastructures. Banks have identified CBDCs as a government type of cryptocurrency which will constitute the exactness of a fiat currency.

At last, one thing some central banks around the world and crypto-enthusiasts could agree on is that a digital asset built on the blockchain could represent a store of value as well as a medium of exchange, and possibly capable of replacing the legacy fiat currency formats.

A CBDC could play a significant role in mass adoption of cryptocurrency. However, as exciting as that may sound for Seoul-based crypto enthusiasts, the South Korean central bank has a differing opinion.

The bank did say last week that it is not rushing into issuing a CBDC even though many financial institutions around the globe are more welcoming to the prospects of the financial instrument. The report published by the bank further reiterates its stance on the subject of CBDC.


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Credit Suisse Successfully Tests Blockchain for Cross-Border Payments

Investment Bank Credit Suisse Successfully Tests Blockchain for Cross-Border Payments

Swiss multinational investment bank and financial service company Credit Suisse confirmed today that its asset management arm which manages over USD 400 billion has successfully tested a blockchain-based cross-border transaction, as reported by Reuters.

According to the post, parties involved in the test — Portugal’s online bank Banco Best and Luxembourg-based order-routing platform Fundsquare — confirmed that a blockchain-based platform was used “to process an unspecified number of trades”.

The attestation stated that the test showed cross-border payment processing which was distributed over the blockchain and is more efficient, scalable and timely in processing.

According to the source, “the investment fund industry relies heavily on transactions and settlements that are often complex and time-consuming to process”, hence the need for a transition to a more secure and fast system to scale up processes.

As it stands, blockchain much-cited edge as a distributed immutable ledger becomes the preferred choice under the circumstances. The post also notes that because of the quality of the blockchain, fewer checks are needed to ensure entries are secure, which in turns saves time.

While the test was successful, the parent company made no comments on whether future applications of the technology will be expanded.

For banks and many financial institutions, optimizing cross border payment processes through blockchain is increasingly becoming an important use case of the blockchain.

Last December, UK fund processor Calastone said it could save up USD 4.3 billion using blockchain and would be moving its operations by May this year.

Recently, major Swiss exchange SIX said it was ready to launch its SDX trading platform using blockchain.

Saudi and UAE have reportedly been collaborating to develop a cross border payment system basically designed for bank-to-bank transactions only through the blockchain, and currently, have a select few commercial banks participating.


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Facebook “Acquihires” Blockchain Startup Chainspace

Facebook _Acquihires_ Blockchain Startup Chainspace

Despite the prolonged bear market, interest in blockchain technology continues to soar. Acquisitions are growing and now, a common practice called “acquihire” sees companies targeting blockchain startups for either both tech and expertise or to simply recycle their expertise. The latest finds social media giant Facebook in a move to acquihire a small blockchain-startup Chainspace, reports news outlet Cheddar yesterday.

Facebook’s serious endeavors towards developing its own blockchain from scratch have made a new stride. This move is apparently the first scaled interest beyond the research exercise it was into for the most part of 2018.

The Chainspace team are reported to be researchers from the University College London and have been specializing in the sharding techniques with blockchain technology to scale transactions through decentralized smart contract systems. They were also exploring applications of decentralization in polling systems.

No figure has been disclosed as of yet, and it remains unknown what price tag the multi-billion-dollar company placed on the startup’s team. However, the team was in the process of crowdfunding USD 4 million to execute their project. The figures may have been worthwhile as they have announced that the project will be “moving on to something new”, according to its website.

Last year, Facebook had shown interest in making its own cryptocurrency but said it would explore blockchain first. Its idea of a cryptocurrency appears to have taken the form of a stablecoin that will be used on its mobile messaging app WhatsApp.

In May of 2018, Facebook formed a blockchain exploration group led by David Marcus who was a former board member of Coinbase. The group was tasked with seeking applicability of blockchain in the company’s business and later that year, blockchain-related job listings appeared on its career page.

Now, more than 40 people are reportedly working in Facebook’s blockchain division, and the company continues to talent hunt for experts in the fields of engineering, product and business development, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and legal.

In yet another acquisition spree, San Francisco-based cryptocurrency exchange Kraken has revealed that it has made a 9-figure move (while undergoing a seed funding round of USD 100 million) to acquire Crypto Facilities, a British trading firm that specializes in derivatives.

This deal for Kraken ranks it first to offer both spot and futures trading in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple, in an attempt to attract institutional investors.

Both acquisitions, as well as many others, demonstrate a healthy crypto and blockchain ecosystem and affirms that blockchain isn’t going away anytime soon.


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Ethereum 2.0 Nears With Phase-0 Pre-Release Approaching Stable

Ethereum 2.0 Nears with Phase-0 Pre-Release Approaching Stable

The flagship dapp platform Ethereum has been undergoing several upgrades to relaunch as Ethereum 2.0, featuring its Constantinople and Serenity upgrade. Developers have been sprinting for months now to scale to the platform’s next and final developmental milestone.

Notification of the update was released on GitHub. The Ethereum developers’ community explained how this is the first release – dubbed the Phase 0 pre-release – which is approaching stable, and that also, more updates will be released through the month of February.

The Ethereum 2.0 update, as a series of updates is expected to lead to a more efficient, faster and scalable Ethereum. The scaling will feature Sharding, Proof of Stake, and eWasm.

The Constantinople update was scheduled to be released earlier, however, the road to the transition has not been exactly smooth. A failed testnet launch occurred back in October 2018 which caused a minor ruckus in the community as a conflict of interest between miners and investors may have ensued, but the developers are working tirelessly to ensure the upgrade works. Secondly, in January, there was a vulnerability in the smart contract code when it was being audited and the initial release had to be delayed to effect the necessary changes.

Serenity is an important and last upgrade for the Ethereum dapp platform which is essential for it to mark the hallmark of its development as it moves from the proof of work to proof of stakes consensus. Perhaps, Ethereum will see new price gains in its new outlook.

Ethereum has so far suffered a huge price loss from its all-time high of USD 1,400 and now trades at USD 107 at press time. Moreover, it is now ranked as number 2 altcoin by market capitalization with Ripple coin overtaking.

Ether began hitting new levels of low late last year, probably due to a host of scaling problems on the network as well as smart contract and alternate dapp development environments being introduced by competitors. It would seem that there are high expectations of a reversal in the downtrend once the full version has been released. So this is good news for Ethereum-based dapps and supporters.


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