Alibaba payments arm Ant launches new technology brand to help speed up digital transformation of traditional industries

Jane Zhang
·4-min read

Ant Group, which operates the online payment platform for the world’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba, launched a new blockchain solution on Thursday to help strengthen transparency and build trust in industries that traditionally involve large numbers of participants and complex processes.

Aggregating technologies including artificial intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT) and secure computation, the AntChain solution is based on the company’s blockchain technology, which has been used in more than 50 use cases in IT leasing, shipping, insurance claim processing, cross-border remittances and charitable donations, according to a company statement.

“Since our inception, building trust has been core to our offer to customers,” said Eric Jing, executive chairman of Ant. “We believe in blockchain’s potential to redefine trust in the digital age, and in solving real-life problems for our customers.”

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The AntChain initiative includes a new workstation, similar in size to a laptop, which will accelerate blockchain applications via built-in software and a dedicated hardware accelerator, the company said.

The AntChain workstation can be set up in one tenth of the time it normally takes and increases transaction speed by 30 per cent with enhanced security algorithms and hardware encryption acceleration for secure computation, the company said.

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Blockchain is a distributed database where every participant shares and synchronises information. The data, maintained in chained records called “blocks”, is not owned by any single authority. The decentralised design enables it to be transparent and tamper-resistant.

Given its transparency and enhanced protection against hacking, blockchain is expected to be widely applied to industries including banking, the manufacturing supply chain, digital identity and governance.

The Chinese government included blockchain in the State Council’s technology blueprint four years ago and President Xi Jinping’s speech backing the technology last October further pushed its development and application in the country.

“Blockchain has been developing along with the wave of digital transformation of traditional industries,” said Li Jieli, general manager of blockchain solutions and innovations at Ant. “The application of industry blockchain is still at an early stage and [it] will support digital transactions, reducing costs in various industries as the digital economy develops.”

Having invested in blockchain research and development since 2015, Ant began to explore its commercial applications last year and now has the capability to process and support one billion user accounts and one billion transactions every day, the company said.

Currently, over 100 million digital assets, including transaction records, copyright certificates and property ownership certificates, are uploaded onto AntChain on average every day, according to Ant.

As of mid-May, China held 19 per cent of the world’s total of 3,924 blockchain patents, ranking No. 3 after the US and South Korea. Ant’s payment app Alipay held the most of any individual company, with 212 patents, according to a report compiled by the China Patent Protection Association.

Tencent, including its online payment service platform Tenpay and WeBank, held 42 blockchain patents as of mid-May, ranking No. 9 globally. Alibaba and Tencent were the only two Chinese companies among the top 10.

On Thursday, Ant also signed a strategic agreement with Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo to make IT leasing services more accessible for small and medium enterprises through the use of AntChain.

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