As we have written in our article about the LINE presentation at the Japan Blockchain Conference 2019, it is not an entirely fair comparison between that and the Rakuten one. Hisada-san presented blockchain technology more from an inward looking perspective, with the Blockchain Lab being positioned as an internal service provider to the various Rakuten business lines. What was lacking somewhat was the perspective of the end customer, how this all translates into meaningful applications, and what is the strategy around the Rakuten points, will they move closer to a cryptocurrency, and how? Regardless, it was a decent overview of the going-ons at Rakuten, and we are sure you will enjoy it.
Rakuten went through a rebranding effort relatively recently, whereby all the services, some of which were acquired, were switched to the “Rakuten” prefix, so for example, the messaging service Viber with a large following in Russia was renamed “Rakuten Viber”.
Rakuten Points is the most successful loyalty and rewards program in Japan. Mikitani-san was discussing the possibility of converting it into a freely tradable cryptocurrency as early as during the Nikkei FinSum in September of 2017. However, no further details on that initiative were revealed during this presentation.
In addition to his role as the Head of Blockchain Technology at Rakuten, Hisada-san is also responsible for the Bangalore development center.
Rakuten Capital, the Corporate VC arm of Rakuten Group, invested in Bitnet, a company facilitating bitcoin payments, in 2014. Buy.com, which was acquired by Rakuten and rebranded to “Rakuten in USA”, started accepting bitcoing payments in 2015. Rakuten took over Bitnet and created the Blockchain Lab towards the end of 2016.
Out of the 10 development centers globally, only three support Blockchain Lab activities. Not having to account for the US West Coast makes communications a little easier.
The Blockchain Lab operates as a service center for all Rakuten business lines. It provides consistency across the group, and acts as a Center of Excellence (CoE). The Lab provides its own Enterprise Blockchain Platform (based on MultiChain or Hyperledger), Cryptocurrency Services (for the acceptance of payments, and conversion into fiat currency), and Key Custody Services.
For those technically inclined, Hisada-san disclosed the technology stack of Blockchain Lab — nothing unusual could be found, quite regular for corporate enterprise use, it seems.
On top of the Enterprise Blockchain based on MultiChain or Hyperledger, Blockchain Labs provides Key Management, and then Identity Management, Wallet, Asset Management and Exchange services that are accessible for all Rakuten businesses.
Hisada-san did not disclose many actual use cases. The Rakuten Energy Trading System (RETS) example dated from the end of 2017, and R-Star simply is an internal staff appreciation engine.
In September 2018, Rakuten acquired the cryptocurrency exchange “Minna no Bitcoin” (“Everybody’s Bitcoin”). The service is currently being further developed, and is expected to launch in a new format in April. The Blockchain Lab has developed the wallet for the exchange and exchange users.