Orange SA is looking to invest in bitcoin startups in the coming months, making it one of the first big international phone carriers to become interested in the technology behind the digital currency, according to Bloomberg. The carrier recently expanded its venture-capital effort with the creation of Orange Digital Ventures. The goal is to have supported 500 startups worldwide by 2020, Orange said in March.
“There’s something intriguing in this technology, so we want to be there as early as possible,” said Georges Nahon, chief executive officer of Orange Silicon Valley, a division of the Paris-based company. “This could be a digital platform of the future,”
The bitcoin blockchain technology could be used to cheaply transfer money between different countries, Nahon said. Like other carriers, Orange is building up its mobile-payment business as more people use their smartphones to make purchases or transfers. Orange already has more than 12 million users for its money transfer service Orange Money in Africa and the Middle East, and is looking to expand the business.
Orange Silicon Valley has been holding bitcoin events at its offices in San Francisco and is talking to two bitcoin companies, Nahon said. The group can invest $20,000 per startup and is part of global team that can spend up to 3 million euros ($3.2 million) per company.
“Even though we have a large internal R&D organization, given the pace of innovation we need to compliment our own initiatives and projects with what the outside world is doing,” Nahon said.
Bitcoin venture-capital investments hit an all-time quarterly high of $233.95 million in the first quarter, according to researcher CB Insights.
Google Ventures and venture arms of several other large tech companies have made investments in bitcoin-related startups. Even the biggest U.S. stock exchange operators are taking steps to embrace bitcoin. This year Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. licensed its technology to a bitcoin trading company, while the New York Stock Exchange invested in bitcoin startup Coinbase.
While telecommunications companies have mostly stayed on the sidelines, several have begun to dabble in bitcoin. Perseus Telecom, which provides high-speed global connectivity services for traders, announced it would begin supporting bitcoin trading. Dish Network Corp. began accepting bitcoin payments last year.
Other telecommunications companies have embraced investing opportunities in the digital currency sector. DoCoMo, Japan’s predominant mobile phone operator, invested in San Francisco-based bitcoin exchange Coinbase during its $75m round in January. T-Mobile Poland also announced that it was trialling bitcoin mobile top-up payments in February, following a partnership with local bitcoin processor InPay S.A.
„Though Libra has met with fierce resistance from central banks and supervisory authorities and might never see the light of day, in many other cases tech firms (both start-ups and established big players) have successfully captured bits and pieces of universal banks’ traditional value chain. This trend may only intensify in the coming years. In this environment, European banks remain squeezed.”