BANGALORE: Next month, India’s tech capital will demonstrate the country is no bit player when it comes to virtual currency Bitcoins. On December 14 and 15, Bangalore will host India’s first and Asia’s second global Bitcoin conference, demonstrating the steady rise in popularity of money minted in cyberspace.
According to enthusiasts who follow every twist and turn in the fast-evolving Bitcoin story, there is a 50,000-strong Bitcoin community in the country, with at least 30,000 of them owning the virtual currency and having an online digital wallet for storing it.
“We want to be recognised and make it easier for people to accept Bitcoins in India, where there are too many regulations,” said Sathvik Vishwanath, founder of CoinMonk, an organisation that aims to raise Bitcoin awareness and is organising the conference.
Investors and venture capitalists are expected to attend the event, which will also see participation from the Reserve Bank of India as well as State Bank of India, the largest public sector lender. In August, ET had reported that RBI was watching and learning about Bitcoins but had no intention of regulating it.
Founded in 2009, Bitcoin is a virtual currency that is not issued or owned by any central bank or other centralised authority but by an open source software, through a process called ‘mining.’
Globally, there are over 11 million Bitcoins, worth nearly $9 billion (Rs 55,000 crore), according to data available with Tokyo-based digital currency exchange called Mt Gox, where over 80% of the Bitcoins are traded. While the rupee has been volatile and slipping in value, the virtual currency has been climbing steadily over the past few months. On Monday, one Bitcoin was trading at $807 on Mt Gox, versus $110 in August.
The value of Bitcoin has skyrocketed after increased demand from investors and positive commentary from the US government. Last week, US Federal Reserve said it recognises the potential of the virtual currency while last month, Chinese search engine Baidu started accepting Bitcoins for some of its services. Last week, British entrepreneur Richard Branson-owned Virgin Galactic said it will start accepting Bitcoins for trips to space. Unless Indian businesses start accepting Bitcoins, the virtual currency is unlikely to broaden its investor base.
“Local businesses have shown great interest in Bitcoin payments,” said Benson Samuel, a Bangalore-based Bitcoin enthusiast who runs coinplace.tk, a knowledge portal on the virtual currency. Samuel, who owns Bitcoins, said he expects at least a few of these businesses to start accepting Bitcoins as a form of payment in the next year. “In a recent report, Infosys said it was looking at crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin. And (venture capital fund) Sequoia wanted to know about the growth of Bitcoin adoption in India. There’s plenty of progress.”
However, it is unlikely to be a smooth ride for the virtual currency as mainstream vendors are still reluctant believers. Vishwanath said online seller Ebay recently removed from its product listings tickets for the Global Bitcoin Conference. “These sort of decisions make it difficult to spread awareness about Bitcoin.”