Rakuten banks on Belfast’s bitcoin expertise

One of Japan’s leading e-commerce companies is betting on Belfast to develop the blockchain technology that’s been touted as being on the cusp of revolutionising financial services.

Rakuten, an online marketplace similar to Amazon and eBay, has opened a dedicated blockchain lab in the city after completing its takeover of local start-up Bitnet Technologies.

Prior to the acquisition, Rakuten owned a stake in Bitnet after investing in a 2014 investment round.

Bitnet was subsequently tipped to become a major success but struggled to make a significant impact.

“Drawing on the significant IP assets and deep engineering expertise of the Bitnet team and combining that with Rakuten’s leadership in FinTech and support of innovative solutions, the new Rakuten blockchain lab will be our first step toward unlocking blockchain’s potential to revolutionise the way that financial and e-commerce transactions are conducted,” said Rakuten chief information officer Yasufumi Hirai.

The Rakuten Blockchain Lab will be headed by Bitnet’s Stephen McNamara and Fergal Downey who will assume the roles of chief technology officer and vice president of engineering, respectively.

“We are delighted Rakuten have chosen to open their new blockchain lab here in Belfast. There are so many great opportunities for blockchain technologies inside Rakuten and the newly created lab will be instrumental in delivering new and innovative solutions,” Mr Downey said.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger system. It is best known as the technology underpinning online currency bitcoin.

Numerous users can manipulate the ledger simultaneously with each change verified by the network of users who run algorithms to evaluate each transactions.


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