While Bitcoin has had a global presence since its beginning, those in emerging nations such as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have had little access to convenient methods for participating in the Bitcoin economy.
That situation is rapidly changing.
In the past weeks a number of developments are helping to make Bitcoin truly a global digital currency. Following are some highlights.
Thanks to BitInstant, bitcoins can now be purchased by cash deposit through Qiwi and Cyberplat.
The second largest Bitcoin foreign exchange market behind Mt. Gox’s BTC/USD is now on BTC-e, a Russian exchange.
Conversion between bitcoins and other e-currencies are often used in Russia and exchange providers such as AurumXChange help to make this conversion convenient and affordable.
After its launch, online wagering service SatoshiDICE quickly added a translation of its site to Russian. Because Bitcoin transactions occur pseudonymously, not even SatoshiDICE knows from which country the wagers are coming. But the swift arrival of Martingale betting bots from Russian developers combined with other clues point to Russia as being one of SatoshiDICE’s largest markets. SatoshiDICE is now responsible for well over half of all bitcoin transactions each day.
Bitcoin has essentially thus far gained zero traction in the world’s second most populous nation, but Bitcoin’s magic formula for growth (a cash deposit method) has now been brought to India by Mr. Bitcoins. Through their service, rupees deposited at any HDFC bank location are converted to bitcoins and transferred to the customer’s Bitcoin address.
India receives more remittance payments than any other country (though China comes in at a close second). Remittance services aren’t a great value though, even with those touted as low cost (such as the new Wells Fargo Express Send / HDFC partnership) as unfair exchange rates are imposed. Bitcoin has the opportunity to function as a remittance method that bypasses that conversion.
While BTC China has been operating for about one year now, it has recently seen a burst of activity.
Investor and Bitcoin evangelist Roger Ver asserts there is an incredible level of interest in bitcoins from speculators as well as from Chinese computer hardware manufacturers looking to add support for Bitcoin on their devices.
Announced today on Bitcoin Brazil (@PortalBitcoinBR) was a reloadable debit card offered to Brazilians that can be funded with either a bank transfer (BRL) or funded with bitcoins. Over 10,000 locations in Brazil accept this debit card for purchases.
This follows BitInstant’s introduction of its Boleto cash deposit method for buying bitcoins or funding exchange accounts using the Brazilian real.
Of course, these aren’t the only emerging economies seeing bitcoin developments. Trading bitcoins in the Philippines is now offered, BitMarket.co, a market exchange in Colombia, just recently launched. BTC-Direct.fr delivers bitcoins using SMS to mobile users in two dozen countries including Estonia, Lithuania and Montenegro and has announced plans to serve Mexico, South Africa and Morocco soon as well.
Additionally, the range of technologies that bitcoins can be used on is expanding, including making bitcoin usable for those using feature phones. Though Coinapult’s recently launched SMS Wallet can only be used in the U.S. and Canada at present their future plans include global expansion.
While Bitcoin’s mindshare is presently concentrated primarily in developed nations, Bitcoin has a bigger potential to improve the lives for those whose savings are at risk of devaluation through inflation, for those whose payments are made costlier as the result of payment system fees, and most importantly for those whose governments impose restrictions on how their money is used.
It would be an incredibly expensive and risky tactic for a corporation or banking endeavor to try to roll out a financial service globally. Because Bitcoin is not a corporation, nor a bank, nor an agency of any government, nor any formal organization it can thus continue to expand, permeating the BRICs and beyond, organically just as it exists today. This is an expected and natural progression for this currency.
The network effect is starting to take hold and Bitcoin is becoming less of a novel innovation and more like a valued special-purpose tool that uniquely serves specific needs and solves tough problems. In hindsight, it would seem obvious that a digital currency that works like cash (non-reversible, trivial transaction costs, instant settlement) would be no less valued in Mumbai than it is in Memphis.
This value is now being recognized the world over.
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