We all have that relative or acquaintance that will ask: “but what can you actually do with crypto? Where can you even use it?”
Instead of beginning to explain the different ways one can handle their virtual coins, the answer to these questions may become more relatable to the crypto-outsider. You could answer: “I just buy the same things you would with your normal money.” And this in itself makes us reflect upon the change undergoing in our concept of what is normal money is.
Withdraw cash from the local Bitcoin ATM, purchase goods online, whipping out your crypto credit card — all of these options are becoming an increasingly convenient reality. There are more and more businesses processing payments in crypto, and others providing the services to do so.
There are many initiatives that are working to allow for simple, seamless transactions in commerce. There are fast-paced developments which are integrating crypto into our business-as-usual daily lives. Some are successful, others less so; all of which makes up the early days of an experimental process where we discover how cryptocurrencies can be integrated into the existing reality.
The arrival of the Lightning Network (LN) in March 2018 (in its functional Beta form) allowed bitcoin transaction to take place on the second layer in way cheaper and faster than ever before. Blockstream CSO Samson Mow has notably described the Network’s service as “unfairly cheap”.
There are both physical and online possibilities to spend one’s bitcoin through Lightning Network. The physical stores which have independently chosen to accept LN payments in their business depict a more special sentiment of crypto-adoption. As researcher and journalist Vlad Costea writes: “Real adoption comes from real enthusiasts who take the plunge into the unknown by giving this new and exciting means of payment a try.”
The Accepting Lightning website comprises of a list of 80 businesses located around the world that accept bitcoin lightning network payments, and is slowly but surely expanding. This includes cafés, retail stores, merchandise, web services and so on. The map shows several locations in North America and Europe, one location in Brazil, one in Thailand and two in Australia. While the figures remain small and there is plenty of space for growth, this shows a headstart in the adoption of cryptocurrency in day-to-day life.
The development of Lightning Network’s uses in physical stores, although minute, show how LN is in its mushrooming phase. More vigorous developments take place in the online payment framework.
OpenNode is a platform allows for bitcoin payments, offering an “easy to use eCommerce and retail plug-in solution, payment infrastructure API’s for developers, and the fastest payment processor limits to allow for brand new payment models and instantaneous settlements.” This is for the vision of helping to create a “borderless future where everyday transactions are used with Bitcoin.”
Open Node offers shopping cart plugins for common commerce platforms, supporting a variety of currencies in 195 countries. As a business, you can customize your website’s checkout payment to accept bitcoin, and automatically convert the bitcoin to your native currency at the time of the transaction. And this is done with very low fees, from a fraction of a dollar cent.
Furthermore, for in-store crypto-payment experience, OpenNode facilitates a “quick, painless mobile and retail experience that will save you and your customers time and headaches.” Such tools make the acceptance of bitcoin in their business a simple step to take.
BitPay and BTCPay
There are other services which act as bitcoin-payment facilitators online. BitPay allows you to “expand your payment options by accepting instant BTC and BCH payments without risk or price fluctuations,” be that on website, email, or personally at your store. BitPay also offers a Visa card for conversion of one’s cryptocurrency into dollars for any retailer that accepts Visa.
Meanwhile, BTCPay is a self-hosted server with an open-source cryptocurrency payment processor — which is “secure, private, censorship-resistant and free.” The service allows the user to receive Bitcoin and altcoin payments without a third-party involvement nor additional fees, so you can be “your own payment processor”.
In an interview by Bitcoinist, Bitcoin Core developer Nicolas Dorier gives us the background that “BTCPay is multi-tenant open-source payment processor, backward compatible with Bitpay API. It means that it is a payment processor which can be used to provide payment processing to multiple merchants.”
The project serves to keep payment processing in bitcoin decentralized. As Dorier states: “Bitcoin itself is decentralized, but payment processors are not, and they use their comfortable position to abuse its customers. BTCPay is a way out.”
The Moon browser extension, functioning in Beta mode since January 2019, allows you to connect your wallet and then to pay with cryptocurrency for your online purchases. Currently, its use-case is limited. It only supports Coinbase wallet, it only connects with four currencies — Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ether and Bitcoin Cash, and it can only be used for purchases on Amazon. The developing group, Moon Technologies, says that addition e-commerce sites like eBay and Walmart will eventually be added.
Moon browser extension, however, is not an open-source, decentralized entity, and has the according weaknesses and problems. In a Reddit post, co-founder Alexander Ang warns users to “uninstall Moon, Revoke your Coinbase API Keys now and protect your bitcoin”, due to the non-consensual collection of user’s data. This is a breach of General Data Protection Regulation and privacy laws meant to protect individual data.
Scandals aside, and as limited as the scope of the Moon extension is, it shows us an eager ambition to provide a simple and seamless integration of crypto into new spaces. Once the initiative is out there, more will follow.
Cash can also be crucial to shopping, and withdrawing your bitcoin conveniently in the physical world falls under the category of normalizing cryptocurrency use in daily life. Thus, it is important to note the rise of Bitcoin ATMs.
The updated Coin ATM Radar website shows that there are 4485 crypto ATMs at the time of writing, located in 77 countries, manufactured by 43 different producers. Furthermore, statistics show that despite bearish markets in 2018, Bitcoin ATMs doubled in number globally from 2000 to 4000 over the course of the year. CoinGape reports that only during the first Week of 2019, an additional 34 ATM’s were installed.
What this highlights is the exchangeability of cryptocurrencies to fiat, so people can continue on their daily financial exchanges in a predominantly fiat world while supporting the use of crypto.