Telegram Pushes Ahead With Plans for ‘Gram’ Cryptocurrency

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While Facebook’s big cryptocurrency plans have hit a wall with regulators, another big social network, Telegram, is charging ahead with its own digital currency.

Telegram has told investors that it is planning to send out the first batches of its coin, the Gram, within the next two months, according to three investors who have spoken with Telegram recently.

Telegram is also planning to make Gram digital wallets available to the 200 million to 300 million global users of Telegram’s messaging application, said the investors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements.

Echoing Facebook’s hopes for its Libra token, which was unveiled this year, Telegram has said the Gram will become a new online currency and a way to move money anywhere in the world.

Those qualities have made it unpopular with governments in Iran and Russia, which have tried to shut it down.

In its sales pitch for the Gram, which was viewed by The New York Times, Telegram has said the new digital money will operate with a decentralized structure similar to Bitcoin, which could make it easier to skirt government regulations.

Once Telegram releases the coins, it has said the coins will be governed by a decentralized network of computers that will give Telegram no control over how and where the coins can move.

“A whole new economy saturated with goods and services sold for cryptocurrency will be born,” the company said in a document sent to potential investors in 2017.

The plans for Gram were met with significant skepticism in the cryptocurrency community. Many of the largest venture capital firms that have invested in cryptocurrencies passed on the chance to invest in it.

Security researchers also raised concerns about the coin because of security problems Telegram has had — issues that could have much more significant consequences if money is involved.

But that did not deter the prominent American venture capital firms Benchmark and Lightspeed Capital, along with many Russian investors, from contributing to the Gram fund-raising round in 2018. Investors put up $1.7 billion in exchange for the promise of future Grams.

Telegram promised in legal documents that it would deliver Grams to investors by Oct. 31, 2019, or give back the money. The company is now racing to get the coins out before that deadline.

Some people will immediately be able to sell their Grams on cryptocurrency exchanges, though the earliest investors agreed to a holding period, according to investor documents viewed by The Times.

Facebook’s Libra is meant to be backed up by traditional currencies held in bank accounts, in order to stabilize the value of the digital coin. The Gram, in contrast, will be backed by nothing and gain or lose its value, like Bitcoin, by whatever someone is willing to pay for it.

Telegram has recently said that before the coins are sent out, a test version of the Gram network will be released within the next week or two, investors said.

The Grams are intended to make it possible to buy and sell other goods on Telegram.

The company also has big ambitions for its Telegram Open Network, which it hopes will host new kinds of digital applications. There could be new kinds of sites, for example, where users tip one another for good comments, or make small bets on future events.

But before any of that happens, Telegram will have to deal with the critics and skeptical regulators.

“I don’t see how on earth Telegram can possibly get something compliant with regulators in place by the end of October,” David Gerard, a cryptocurrency analyst and critic, recently wrote on his website.

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