Over the past few years, we’ve seen digital currencies take the world by storm. No longer are we confined to using fiat currencies, which are slow to transfer and often come with higher global transaction fees and instead, digital assets like mobile money and Bitcoin can be transferred between people seamlessly, without the presence of a central authority – like a bank.
These factors are part of the appeal of digital currencies to both technology fanatics and everyday users. But how do cryptocurrencies and mobile money compare, which one is better? We’ve explored in more depth to find out.
What’s the difference between the currencies?
If you’ve heard of either of these digital currencies, you’ll know that they both require electronic wallet services to pay for things online or via your mobile phone. But beyond that, how different are the two currencies, where did they come from and what makes them so popular?
Mobile money emerged at around the same time as Bitcoin. One of the best known providers of mobile money is M-Pesa, which took off in Kenya as a solution to poor landline connections and lack of internet banking. There are now around 20 million users of the service worldwide. It was launched in 2007 by Vodafone for the Kenyan mobile network operators Safaricom and Vodacom. The Financial Task Action Force (FATF) are an inter-governmental organisation that is responsible for preventing money laundering and terrorist financing, and they got behind mobile money and released a helpful guide for its use which has helped to boost its popularity and ensured that regulations are put in place.
Essentially, mobile money allows people to store funds in an account which is linked to a phone number, reducing the need for a bank account or a consistent Wi-Fi connection. It can be used for any number of things- paying bills, sending money to friends and family and even to withdraw cash at authorised agents.
Bitcoin was released online back in 2009, by an anonymous technology forum user who went by the name Satoshi Nakamoto. It was developed as an answer to the high costs of exchange rates and international transaction fees, with the intention of making it quicker and easier for people to send money around the world. At first, the currency was designed to be used in peer-to-peer transactions. However, it’s since grown and developed to be more widely used and some popular retailers are even beginning to accept the currency. One of the key defining factors of Bitcoin is its volatility; there have been several serious crashes throughout its history, causing users to lose thousands overnight. Despite this, there are over 100,000 Bitcoin transactions taking place each and every day around the world and steps are being taken in countries such as Japan to regulate the currency.
How can they be used?
It’s all very well knowing exactly what mobile money and Bitcoin are and how they work, but knowing how these currencies can be used is essential for determining which one is the most successful.
As previously mentioned, mobile money was created as answer to Kenya’s lack of internet infrastructure. Instead, it allowed and still allows people to use their mobile data to access the service and deposit their real cash at an agent in exchange for M-Pesa credit, or mobile money. It seems that developers have found a winning combination for developing an unforgettable app. Throughout Kenya, it’s pretty much possible to pay for just about any service or product through M-Pesa. Some have even gone as far to say it’s easier to pay for a taxi using your mobile in Nairobi than it is in New York! In 2013, Africa and the Middle East processed $5.7 billion in mobile money, since then the currency has only increased in use. Outside of these two regions, the service hasn’t really kicked off but that’s largely because it is countries in poverty that can receive the most benefit from the service.
The story is quite different for Bitcoin, which is being used across the world but mostly in China, Japan and the US. Originally, it was only used in the online gaming and gambling industries, and there are now hundreds of bitcoin casinos offering users new ways to pay and play. However, Bitcoin is becoming more widely used and accepted around the world. It’s rapidly sold by investors for profit on Bitcoin exchanges like CoinDesk and Bitmap.
There are now a number of reputable e-commerce sites, like Microsoft and CheapAir.com, accepting the currency and some restaurants in Japan allow diners to pay for their food with the digital currency. However, due to complex regulation issues and poor press reputation many businesses are avoiding using Bitcoin despite its huge potential to speed up transactions. At the moment, the cryptocurrency is largely used for novelty the factor rather than practical purposes. It has the potential to be a successful alternative to fiat currency in the future but hasn’t quite reached this level yet.
Which one comes out top?
Really, it depends what you want to use the digital currency for. Bitcoin has managed to fend off rival cryptocurrencies like The Champ Coin and Ether, but its limited uses have restricted its growth and potential. A lot of work needs to be done to find ways to regulate the currency before it’s possible to pay for anything and everything using Bitcoin. The technology is definitely impressive and has the potential to be utilised in, and transform, many different industries in the near future.
However, mobile money is arguably the most successful and innovative digital asset when comparing the two. It’s solved a huge problem in the developing world, giving greater financial freedom to people and allowing them to pay for products and services conveniently. Beyond the convenience factor, mobile money providers like M-Pesa have actually reduced poverty in Kenya by making it safer for people to store and save their income in a way that is free from potential corruption.