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State of Crypto Markets in Asia

Bobby Ong -

Recently, at Coindesk’s Invest Asia conference in Singapore, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote presentation on the state of the cryptocurrency markets in Asia. Having observed the crypto markets daily for the past few years, I found this speaking engagement to be a good opportunity for me to take a step back and look at how the crypto markets have progressed in the past 5 years.

While preparing for this presentation, my team at CoinGecko and I found some things that surprised us. We found that in the past 5 years, the crypto market has shifted from a Western-dominated industry to a very Asian-dominated industry.

1. Cryptocurrency Mining Is Now Largely Asian-Dominated

Five years ago, in June 2014, there was only 1 large Asian Bitcoin mining pool in the top 10 Bitcoin mining pools in terms of hashrate distribution. This sole Asian representative was Discus Fish, now known as F2Pool.

Fast forward 5 years. Things are very different now. Bitcoin hashrate distribution from 2 August 2019 showed that of the top 10 Bitcoin mining pools, 8 are from Asia – or, more specifically, from China. Only 2 of them are non-Chinese, namely, Slushpool (Czech Republic) and Bitfury (Georgia).

Bitmain, a vertically-integrated Bitcoin mining company from China, has direct control of the 2 largest mining pools, BTC.com and AntPool. It also has indirect control of the 7th largest mining pool via a significant investment in ViaBTC. In total, Bitmain’s combined hash rate is 40% of Bitcoin’s total hashrate.

From the chart above, we can see that Chinese mining pools control over 80% of Bitcoin’s hashrate. It is true that mining pool distribution is not a perfect indicator of mining hardware distribution. However, alternative sources such as this Coinshares report from June 2019 have reached similar conclusions, showing that Bitcoin mining is now very concentrated in China:

We currently estimate that 60% of global mining happens in China, and that Sichuan alone produces 50% of [the] global hashrate, with the remaining ten percent split more or less evenly between Yunnan, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

The same can be said of Ethereum mining. Three years ago, in May 2016, there were only 2 large Asian mining pools – F2Pool and Miningpoolhub. Now, 6 of the top 10 mining pools are from Asia. Five of them are from China, with 1 (Miningpoolhub) coming from Korea.

This trend of Asian mining pools dominating a cryptocurrency’s hashrate can be observed for many other Proof-of-Work cryptocurrencies.

2. Staking is Also Largely Asian-Dominated

One may argue that China has an inherent advantage when it comes to mining because Chinese miners have access to cheap electricity and also get quick access to the best ASIC mining hardware via Bitmain, a Chinese company.

However, when it comes to Delegated Proof of Stake (DPoS) tokens, the above 2 advantages disappear. Without those advantages, we should expect to see a more level playing field with participants from all over the world.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly the case. Taking an extreme example, we looked at EOS Block Distribution on 3 August 2019. We observed that 80% of the Block Producers come from China. Eighteen of the 21 Block Producers are Chinese-operated, though they may not carry the China “country-of-origin” flag.

The large concentration of Chinese Block Producers shows the high concentration of EOS whales that are coming from China and voting for their preferred Chinese Block Producers.

3. New Exchanges Are Mostly from Asia

In the past 1.5 years, CoinGecko saw a 706% increase in the number of new exchanges added, amounting to 318 new exchanges. When we looked at the country of registration, we found that 40% of these new exchanges were from Asia. There are many other Asian-operated exchanges that have chosen to incorporate on island nations such as Malta, the Seychelles, the Cayman Islands, and the British Virgin Islands.

The rise of new exchanges has resulted in intense competition amongst them. The exchanges have resorted to using a variety of techniques to inflate their reported trading volume and, therefore, appear to be larger than they are. Some of the methods they have used to inflate their reported trading volume include trading incentives, wash-trading, trans-fee mining, and outright fake API data.

On 31 July 2019, we observed that Binance is ranked as only the 14th largest exchange by reported trading volume, though it is the largest and most liquid exchange according to many other metrics.

To normalize for inflated reported trading volume, CoinGecko introduced Trust Score (and, recently, Trust Score 2.0). In normalizing the volumes of exchanges, we found that 58% of trading volume comes from Asia.

4. Singapore Leads the World in ICO and IEO Issuance

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and Initial Exchange Offerings (IEOs) have provided an alternative funding route for crypto entrepreneurs. Singapore is the global leader in issuing ICOs.

In 2018, 228 ICOs were conducted in Singapore, raising a total of $1.6 billion. Switzerland, home of Ethereum Foundation, was only the 6th most popular jurisdiction for conducting an ICO in 2018.

In 2019, IEO (as opposed to ICO) became the trendy way to raise money. For the first half of this year, Singapore again led the world. A total of 72 IEOs took place, raising a total of $130 million. Asian-based exchanges were the most active in facilitating IEOs, such as Gate.io, Bitforex, Binance, Kucoin, and Huobi.

5. Asia Is Leading the World with Innovation

Binance is by far the most innovative exchange in the world. It has launched many initiatives that other exchanges have since copied. For example, it pioneered the exchange-token model that is now the de facto standard for operating an exchange, especially in Asia.

Earlier this year, Binance single-handedly kickstarted the IEO trend with the Bittorrent IEO. It has since moved on to launch its own chain, called Binance Chain. On top of that, Binance launched the first Dapp (decentralized application), the Binance DEX (decentralized exchange).

Binance is just one example of the many Asian companies that are pushing the envelope with innovations. If this trend continues, it won’t be surprising if we start seeing more innovations coming out of Asia in the following years.

Conclusion

The cryptocurrency industry has grown by many folds in the past 5 years. This is an industry in which it is currently advantageous to be based in Asia, as the centre of gravity has shifted there. We are seeing many companies from Asia rising up to the challenges, pushing forward progress and innovation.

It is great to be involved in the crypto industry in Asia!

Here is the video recording of my presentation:

Here are my presentation slides in full:

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Bobby Ong
Bobby Ong
Bobby is the co-founder of CoinGecko, a cryptocurrency ranking website that gives a 360 degree overview of cryptocurrencies. Follow the author on Twitter @bobbyong

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