Global Blockchain Industry Overview and Prospects (2019–2020)
Industry outlook in 2019: Worldwide spending on blockchain was nearly $2.9 billion in 2019. The US was the largest spender with 39% of that figure, followed by Western Europe (24.4%), China (11.2%), Asia-Pacific Region (8.1%) and Central and Eastern Europe (5.2%). Top 5 industries, including banking, discrete manufacturing, retail, professional services and process manufacturing, accounts for 73% of the total spending. Global investment has also become more rational. The number of investment transactions in 2019 was on a par with 2018, but the total amount has fallen by 27.9% to $3.1 billion, of which the US maintained the leading position, accounting for 40%, followed by China at 15%. Patent filings have grown at an exponential rate to more than 22k worldwide, 63% of which came from China. China has attached more importance to blockchain in 2019. More than 30 provinces/cities have issued support policies and 38 blockchain industrial parks have been established.
Major crypto assets in 2019: 2019 witnessed burgeoning blockchain payments. Libra, a stable cryptocurrency jointly operated by 20 giants, including Facebook, release its White Paper. Based on blockchain technology, Libra’s mission is to set up a reliable financial infrastructure and promote financial inclusion. Many quasi-Libra payment tools such as JPM Coin and USC have been introduced as well. Countries and regions such as China, EU, and the US also announced that they would launch fiat digital currencies.
Trends in 2020: 1) Stimulated by Libra, more regional fiat cryptocurrencies will likely emerge; the permissioned chain-based interbank payment system will also thrive, enabling extensive applications of blockchain in the payment. 2) A global standard will be implemented, and A technical standard will integrate with the financial standard of blockchain. 3) with the increasing demand of enterprise blockchains, the interoperability between permissioned blockchains will be the next-technology in 2020；4) blockchain will integrate with other cutting-edge technologies such as IoT, AI and 5G. 5) with the compilation of blockchain textbooks incorporated in China’s national plan, blockchain education will be more popular in colleges and universities.
【Huobi Research】 Hubery Yuan，Xiao Xiao，Rui Wang，Tianyuan Ma，Shenghua Chen，Yiming Weng，Le Chen，Hui Li
【Tsinghua SEM Business Model Research Center】 Li Xia
【Blockchain Joint Laboratory of BUPT】 Zhaofeng Ma
【Xidian University】 Qingqi Pei
【Blockchain Research Center of Harbin Institute of Technology】 Zhifeng Xu
1. Blockchain industry outlook in 2019
1.1 Global blockchain spending has grown, with banking field taking the lead
Global blockchain spending has grown, with the United States spending the most: Worldwide spending on blockchain solutions is around $2.9 billion in 2019, an increase of 88.7% from the $1.5 billion spent in 2018, according to a newly updated Worldwide Semiannual Blockchain Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC). The United States is the region seeing the largest blockchain spending in 2019 (39%), followed by Western Europe (24.4%), China (11.2%), Asia-Pacific Region (excl. China, Japan) (8.1%) and Central and Eastern Europe (5.2%).
As an emerging blockchain market, China’s spending on the technology is forecast to hit $2 billion by 2023: According to IDC research, the total spending in China’s blockchain market reached $160 million in 2018. At the 18th collective study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, President Xi Jinping stressed that China must take blockchain as an important breakthrough for independent innovation of core technologies, and accelerate the development of blockchain and industrial innovation. With golden opportunities presented by President Xi’s push for greater blockchain adoption, China’s blockchain market is expected to reach $293 million in 2019, and will continue to grow over the next four years, expected to exceed $2 billion by 2023.
In recent years, the banking industry always took the lead in blockchain spending: Top five industries in blockchain spending are banking, discrete manufacturing, retail, professional services and process manufacturing, accounting for 73% of the total.
Figure 3：Top industry in blockchain spending, 2019
1.2 Blockchain investment tend to be rational, with the U.S. investing the most
Global blockchain-related investment and financing tends to be rationalized: According to CB insights, the number of investment transactions in 2019 was 806, and the number in 2018 was 822; but the global investment scale in 2019 dropped from $4.26 billion in 2018 to $3.07 billion, a decrease of 27.9%.
Source: CB Insights, presented by Huobi Research
In terms of geographical distribution, 40% of investment and financing flowed to the United States in the first two quarters of 2019, and China came in second with 15%.
1.3 Exponential rise in global blockchain patents led by China
With blockchain technology booming, its application has been extended to digital finance, the Internet of Things (IoT), intelligent manufacturing, supply chain management, digital asset trading, etc. To gain a competitive edge in technology and market, the number of blockchain patent applications worldwide is rising year by year.
According to Baiten.cn, a patents database, by the end of 2019, the number of patent applications related to “Blockchain”, “Smart Contract”, and “Distributed Ledger” had reached 22,293, an increase of 45% at the end of 2018. Historical data reflects that the patent application has shown an accelerating trend since the end of 2013. As of the end of 2019, the CAGR reached 98%.
Figure 6: Global Blockchain Patent Application
In terms of geographical distribution, China is the most active patent filer: As of the end of 2019, 63% of blockchain patents worldwide came from China, far ahead of other countries and regions, according to Baiten.cn. The United States comes second, with 18% of the total.
According to the reports of IPRdaily and IncoPat, as of the first half of 2019, among the top 10 companies with the most patents there were Chinese internet giant Alibaba, Chinese finance conglomerate Ping An, NChain, etc. Alibaba has topped the list for three consecutive years.
According to ThemeScape patent maps developed by Derwent Innovation of Clarivate Analytics, popular fields of blockchain patent filings include application areas such as digital wallet, payment request, identity authentication, transaction request, intelligent contracts, credit loans, etc.; and technical areas such as encryption (including public keys and private keys), learning models, hash algorithms, blockchain network, etc.
Figure 9: ThemeScape patent map
1.4 The supportive policy environment for blockchain innovation in China
During the “Two Sessions” in the first half of 2019, more than 30 blockchain-related proposals and opinions were put forward by representatives from all over the country, showing the focus on blockchain technology across the country. Speaking at the 18th collective study of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee on October 24, President Xi Jinping urged that China must take the blockchain as an important breakthrough for independent innovation of core technologies, and accelerate the development of blockchain technology and industrial innovation. In this context, more than 30 provinces/municipalities/autonomous regions including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guizhou, and Shandong have issued policy guidance documents to quicken development in the sector. Meanwhile, according to 01Caijing Think Tank, as of the end of November 2019, 38 blockchain industrial parks have been established nationwide, of which 18 are led or promoted by the government. Over 60% of the blockchain industrial parks are located in cities such as Hangzhou, Guangdong, and Shanghai.
2. Analysis of major global digital assets in 2019
2.1 Libra: typical blockchain application in finance
In June 2019, the whitepaper of Facebook’s widely reported on project Libra was released, conveying the mission to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that can realize financial inclusion. It is committed to empowering global users to have cheaper and faster access to payment. So far, even though it has been questioned frequently by regulators, there haven’t been any insurmountable obstacles or unsolvable problems. So, we expect to see Libra be adopted eventually.
Libra is managed by the Libra Association, a distributed association headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Its members include enterprises, non-profit organizations, multilateral organizations and academic institutions over the world. Facebook is one of them.
Libra is a typical blockchain application in finance and is applied in major scenarios as follows:
Lower costs in global payment: At present, the global market for cross-border payments and remittances is large, with annual transfers of at least US$ 1 trillion. The transfer speed is in T+N and the average rate of transfer fee is over 7%, which means high cost and low efficiency. Since blockchain is globalizing, peer-to-peer, and liquidable, Libra can build a new value transmission network around the world to give full play to its prominent strengths in cross-border payment. In this way, we can settle and trace funds transferred in real time, and enjoy better financial service that saves time and money.
Financial inclusion: Nowadays, roughly 1 billion people in this world have mobile phones but no bank accounts. Take a typical example, in the Philippines, about 70 to 80% Filipinos don’t have access to bank accounts; the extremely underdeveloped inter-bank market there hampers capital flow. However, the Philippines’ total remittances in 2015 accounted for 10% of its GDP. With digital wallet and internet-based devices, Libra can be adopted for peer-to-peer transfer and payments just like sending messages. Financial behaviors will thus be much more convenient, and financial inclusion can be truly realized.
2.2 Quasi-Libra payment tools for digital currency
The USC (Utility Settlement Coin) program of Fnality International is as meaningful as Libra. Fnality is a joint venture established with about £50 million by 14 international banks and financial institutions from the U.S., Europe and Japan, including UBS, Barclays Group, Nasdaq, Credit Suisse, The Bank of New York Mellon, etc. USC will be built on Autonity, a private Ethereum network, and backed by 5 major fiat currencies, namely, the USD, CAD, GBP, JPY and EUR. After its initial release, it will be used for clearing among banks. But when the time comes, it will be used for multiple utility settlements as suggested in its name. At present, the USC has not been officially issued, but the power behind is very strong. The team of Fnality has discussed with many central banks and other banks, including the Bank of England, the Swiss National Bank, the Bank of Canada and Monetary Authority of Singapore, so it has a high probability that it will be adopted in the coming years.
JP Morgan Chase also launched a stablecoin JPM Coin in 2019, which is 1: 1 pegged to USD, and the USD reserves are deposited in its designated accounts. JPM Coin is mainly used for capital flows between JP Morgan Chase’s subsidiaries and branches in different countries, as well as between JP Morgan Chase and its business partners, and is not intended for individual users. Contrasted with traditional B2B cross-border transfer business, real-time clearance and settlement of funds by using JPMCoin can greatly increase the business efficiency of financial institutions and reduce the tedious processes of clearing and settlement, especially in cross-border scenarios. The operation logic of JPM Coin is that when a customer sends funds to another customer via blockchain, JPM Coin will be transferred and immediately converted into the equivalent USD, where JPMCoin acts as a transfer medium that can shorten the settlement time.
2.3 Central Bank Digital Currencies in different countries
In addition to Quasi-Libra cryptocurrency tools, many countries and regions have begun to explore their Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC); some have already reached achievements. In March 2018, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) released a report on CBDC and presented a currency classification method in a chart, the money flower, to clarify the concept of CBDC. Its classification mainly includes properties in four dimensions, including issuer (central bank or others), form (digital or physical), accessibility (wholesale or general purpose), and technology (token-based or account-based). These four dimensions draw a line between three types of fiat digital currencies.
A number of countries have also begun to study the fiat digital currencies and pilot POC projects. The development of fiat digital currencies in different countries and regions are listed as follows:
3. New trend of global blockchain industry in 2020
3.1 Mass adoption of blockchain in the payment industry
Governments around the world will take actions to face the impact of payment tools for cryptocurrency such as Libra and USC. The year 2020 will see more government-endorsed regional stable coins. Aside from the “E-euro”, regional permissioned blockchains-based digital currency will be issued by developing countries. The BRICs, with 40% of the world’s population and 23% of global GDP, have proposed to create a single payment and settlement system among members. This proposal is supported by BRICS Business Council. With the accelerated research and development, more Libra-like fiat cryptocurrencies will be soon issued.
As the pioneer in blockchain application, banking industry founded the first industrial blockchain alliance (R3 consortium) in September 2015. In addition, according to IDC, banking industry has spent the most in blockchain. Permissioned blockchains-based payment application will be widely adopted.
3.2 Emergence of the global standard, and integration of the technical standard and the financial standard of blockchain
In 2019, three big international standard association, ISO, IEEE and ITU, has set up 26 working groups which have developed 48 blockchain-related standards. At the same time, some traditional Internet giants have participated in the formulation of industrial standards. For example, Tencent has submitted the electronic invoice standard based on its blockchain invoice solution. Huawei’s proposals are also included into IEEE P214X blockchain standards. These standards will be soon finalized, and then widely implemented.
The blockchain-related standards involve blockchain technology, Fintech and cryptofinance. Some engineering and technical international standards organizations have also begun to prepare Fintech standards. For example, IEEE, one of the largest professional organizations of technical standard, has introduced standards for payment, anti-money laundering (AML) and digital assets into its P214X blockchain standards. It shows that the worldwide blockchain technology will be integrated with the financial application.
3.3 Interoperability of permissioned blockchains is the next technology
The year 2019 has witnessed major progress in enterprise blockchain too. Such cases are now limited in small-scale enterprises and the upper and lower reaches of the industry. However, with deepened understanding of blockchain and more applications of enterprise permissioned blockchains, interoperability of permissioned blockchains will be promoted by the increasing demand for business connections. A simple and automatic interoperability process will expand the radius of use of the permissioned blockchain. In May 2019, Bank of Canada and Monetary Authority of Singapore had jointly conducted a successful experiment on CBDC cross-border payment. The experiment used a technique called Hash Time Lock Contract (HTLC) to connect two networks, i.e. the Singapore network on Quorum, and the Canadian network on Quorum. With the increasing demand in 2020, interoperability of permissioned blockchains will be the next technology.
3.4 Integration of blockchain and other cutting-edge technologies
Currently, blockchain has made the 0 to 1 adoption. However, to extend its application from 1 to 100, blockchain needs to integrate with other cutting-edge technologies such as IoT, AI and 5G.
Blockchain empowers cutting-edge technologies. Compared with a single AI or big data application, the integration of blockchain can improve data sharing which solves data silos and guarantees data privacy at the same time. The encryption of blockchain provides IoT a better defense against hackers.
Cutting-edge technologies can also enable blockchain to play a greater role. For example, AI can help users make efficient and valuable processing and analysis of data based on the trusted data on blockchain; IoT enables the faster data collection and less human intervention, so as to improve the authenticity and credibility of data; 5G improves the TPS of distributed ledger with high-speed, high-capacity, low latency.
In conclusion, the digital economy and industry will truly be integrated when the blockchain and other cutting-edge technologies are integrated for complementarity.
3.5 Blockchain education in colleges and universities.
Since the beginning of 2020, blockchain textbooks have been compiled by many Chinese colleges and universities, academic institutions, and research institutions. Huobi Research, collaborated with China Machine Press, launched the series of “blockchain textbooks for higher education” including Introduction to Blockchain, Design and Application of the Blockchain System, and Analysis of New Business Model of Blockchain. The compilation of blockchain textbooks has been incorporated in China’s national plan. Many colleges and universities will offer blockchain major for undergraduates, providing a momentum for the blockchain industry.
About the Author
1. About Huobi Research：
Huobi Research was founded in April 2016 and started research and explorations in various aspects in Blockchain area since March 2018. We cover various fields such as Blockchain technology research, industry analysis, application innovation and economic model explorations. We aim to establish a research platform and to offer theoretical foundations as well as judgements of trends in Blockchain to the public, ultimately promoting the development of the Blockchain industry.
2. About Tsinghua SEM Business Model Research Center:
Tsinghua SEM Business Model Research Center was founded by Zhu Wuxiang, a domestic outstanding expert on corporate finance and business model and professor of School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University.The center is committed to creating business model theories and discipline system, as well as analyzing and designing tools and methods to assist enterprises in optimizing, upgrading, and restructuring their business models to enhance competitiveness and corporate value.
3. About Blockchain Joint Laboratory of BUPT(Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications):
Blockchain and Security Technology Joint Laboratory of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications consists of full-time teachers, doctors, masters and blockchain scientists. The joint laboratory is mainly engaged in the development and application of the underlying technology of the blockchain, who focuses on the development and application of trusted blockchain innovation technology, trusted permissioned blockchain platform, trusted blockchain BaaS platform, and trusted blockchain application system customization.
4、About Xidian University
Xidian University is a national key university focusing on information and electronics disciplines, with a coordinated development of engineering, science, management, and liberal arts. It is directly under the Ministry of Education and is a key construction of the National Advantage Discipline Innovation Platform and the 211 Project. Xidian University is also one of the national double innovation demonstration bases, the first batch of 35 exemplary software colleges, the first batch of 9 exemplary microelectronics colleges, the first batch of 9 approved integrated circuit talent training bases, and the first batch of first-class cyber security colleges demonstration projects.
5、About the Blockchain Research Center of Harbin Institute of Technology
The Blockchain Research Center of Harbin Institute of Technology is a non-independent academic research institution affiliated to Harbin Institute of Technology, which was established in September 2018.The research center makes full use of the advantages of Harbin Institute of Technology in terms of disciplines, talents and technologies, and conducts research in blockchain technology in combination with the subject application of leading enterprises and institutions and senior talents in the blockchain industry .The center is oriented to the development demand of blockchain technology, and conducts research and development of science and technology projects and realizes industrialization in related fields of blockchain industry.
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 The “Two Sessions” refer to the plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).