Bitcoin has been on a tear lately with the world’s most popular cryptocurrency’s value soaring four-fold since the start of the year. While bitcoin is still poorly understood in Cambodia and only accepted by about a dozen merchants, the development of the country’s first payment gateway could pave the way for its wider use as both a currency and an investment. The Post’s Robin Spiess recently spoke to Steve Miller, CEO of CryptoAsia, about the potential of bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology.
What is CryptoAsia and what services does it provide?
I’ve been into bitcoin for many years, and I’ve noticed there’s no one really taking the reins and becoming a public entity that specialises in this new revolutionary technology here. The main goal for me is to put bitcoin on the map in Cambodia and increase its adoption in the country. The services we offer now are a bitcoin payment gateway, which makes it easier for merchants to accept bitcoin, and we’ll also be coming out with an exchange platform near the end of the year where you can buy and sell bitcoin.
Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer currency and it doesn’t need centralisation. There is a bit of irony in CryptoAsia introducing ourselves as a third-party processer because the philosophy behind bitcoin is intermediation, so there’s no need for third parties or anyone to process your transactions. CryptoAsia converts the bitcoin into a dollar amount and then pays you the exact dollar amount that was intended to be owed at the time of the bitcoin transaction. That gives merchants the ability to hedge against price fluctuations in bitcoin.
Is this the first bitcoin payment gateway in Cambodia, and how does it work?
Yes, we are the first. We install a widget on a merchant’s website that generates bitcoin addresses. All the merchant has to do is enter the dollar amount that’s owed and the gateway generates it into bitcoins with a unique payment address. It’s useful for online businesses and can also be used as point-of-sale platform if you have a smartphone or a tablet.
How widespread is bitcoin use and acceptance in Cambodia?
Bitcoin use is mostly underground in Cambodia, and there are no major businesses here that accept bitcoin, but other countries in the region have professional exchanges and bitcoin activity.
Actually, there are more people than you realise who exchange for a living in Cambodia, and I get a lot of Khmer customers. It’s impossible to measure exactly how many people use bitcoin here, but the number is higher than people realise.
I’m anticipating that bitcoin will ultimately be adopted on a mass basis, so CryptoAsia is going to position itself in Cambodia until that happens.
How has bitcoin performed lately, and how easy and secure is it for people to use Bitcoin as currency or investment?
Bitcoin is up over 400 percent since the beginning of the year. It’s the most secure form of payment in the world. The revolution of bitcoin is that it’s a distributive, decentralised network. There have been digital currencies before, but they’ve always been controlled by a central authority.
In terms of an investment, though, I wouldn’t recommend it. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose. The price of bitcoin fluctuates and goes up and down in dramatic fashion. I think it’s getting more stable as time goes by, but you have to think of it in terms of any new revolutionary technology. Bitcoin is still in its infancy. It won’t be that way for long, though; I think just a couple more years and it’ll be widely used.
What is blockchain technology?
At its core, the blockchain is just a database. It’s a storage mechanism for data. We’ve discovered a way for the public to change this database without corrupting any of the previous entries within it, so it’s impossible to fake a transaction.
Besides currencies, what other industries can benefit from the blockchain model?
The first and probably most important application for bitcoin is as currency, but bitcoin is just an accounting system. You can use it as a public ledger to record data that you don’t want to be forged.
It’s useful for voting. Using the bitcoin blockchain, we can vote without anyone needing to count our votes, because the blockchain is perfectly auditable and eliminates the possibility for fraud. Clearing houses, stock exchanges and notary services can use the blockchain model.
What are ICOs and what potential do they offer?
ICOs are like their own bitcoin. They’re actually tokens that are bought and sold on a digital currency platform called Ethereum, which is like the smartphone of digital currencies. You can launch apps on Ethereum, the equivalent of which are tokens, and tokens are basically a cryptocurrency with its own set of rules.
If you’re a company that wants to raise capital, you can issue these tokens on the Ethereum blockchain and it’s similar to any other form of equity sale. The tokens themselves have value, and the company’s performance affects the price of the token. Selling tokens is very similar, then, to issuing stock.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.