Blockchain networks exist in multiple forms depending on their varying properties like participant identities, the extent of decentralization, consensus protocols, energy consumption, privacy levels, speed, and scalability.
The two most common classifications are public and private blockchains, with the latter consisting of a partially decentralized sub-network called consortium or federated blockchain. Some experts in the field, such as Vitalik Buterin in his 2015 article On Public and Private Blockchains, even regard consortium blockchains as an independent blockchain.
Other well-known classifications of blockchain applications include permissionless versus permissioned platforms, which determine the level of access and the restrictions placed on those with permission.
Both categories are often confused together, with many mistaking public blockchains for permissionless blockchains and private/consortium blockchains for permissioned blockchains. However, this is untrue, as public blockchains could also be permissioned.
Since blockchain as a concept is complex, fast-paced, and ever-evolving, definitions and classifications may still be hazy sometimes. As financial technology keeps advancing, futuristic models of transaction flows and applications continue to emerge, along with improved definitions and distinct classifications.
Different Kinds of Blockchain Networks
Permissioned versus permissionless blockchains
Permissioned blockchains can be distinguished from permissionless ones by the access control measures placed on the network. A permissionless blockchain is an open ecosystem where anyone can join the network and participate without restrictions. These blockchains do not require any prior approval to access the platform or validate transactions.
On the other hand, a permissioned blockchain is a closed network where access is granted only to specified participants, based on the type of platform, i.e., public, private, or consortium. Platform administrators can configure multiple access levels to allow participants to read data, propose a new transaction, or create new blocks of transactions. Although permissionless blockchains like Bitcoin are more commonly known, many platform creators offer permissioned blockchains for international trade purposes.
Public versus private/consortium blockchains
Participants of public blockchains are not regulated or managed by any central authority and also have equal rights on all decisions. By keeping a public record of the transactions and permitting users to transact anonymously, public blockchain platforms maintain transparency and user privacy at all times. Public blockchain systems operate on a consensus mechanism, relying on the nodes to verify and then record transactions on the ledger.
Public blockchain platforms like Bitcoin incentivize users to reach consensus by offering cryptocurrencies as a reward for verifying transactions. The first miner, or validator, to complete the verification process solving complicated mathematical puzzles earns the reward. Users further incentivize miners to prioritize their verification by paying transaction fees, which significantly vary from platform to platform. Comparatively, Bitcoin charges the highest transaction fees, reaching an average of 11 US dollars per transaction back in November 2017, causing many within the community to argue that the system had reached its limit.
When a public blockchain is permissionless, it is open to everybody with an internet connection, which essentially means that:
- Blockchain data can be read or linked by anyone;
- Transactions can be broadcast throughout the network by anybody; and
- Anybody can partake in the consensus decision to include blocks to the chain by merely downloading the necessary software and running a public node.
Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, are a classic example of public permissionless blockchains whose application comes close to the original intention behind the creation of blockchain technology by Bitcoin.
However, some public blockchains may also be permissioned. For instance, the Proof of Stake protocol, launched by the blockchain platform Ethereum in December 2020, permits stake-based transaction validation (i.e., how many coins the validator has and how long he has had it) only by those who meet certain specified conditions.
While the decentralized environment of a public blockchain makes it secure, impervious to malicious attacks, and ensures there is no single point of failure, the network does struggle to maintain scalability, which prevents the widespread adoption of this technology.
Unlike public blockchains, private blockchains are controlled by one entity and only allow verified users to participate. The controlling entity can restrict individual user permissions to read, write or validate data in a blockchain. Private blockchains offer greater privacy than public blockchains by enabling the restriction of user permissions to read-only. The controlling authority can decline transactions and even change the rules and regulations of the private blockchain network.
Private blockchains use lesser computing power than public blockchains as only a restricted number of nodes can verify transactions depending on the network rules, making it more efficient and scalable. Private blockchains may also charge transaction fees to verify the transactions.
There is some controversy surrounding the technology as some argue against using the word blockchain in terms of private ledger networks as private blockchains follow a centralized approach to processing transactions which contradicts the original idea behind the technology.
Consortium blockchains, a subset of private blockchains, are partially decentralized networks that operate under the governance of a group of entities or organizations with identified participants.
As opposed to private blockchains, consortium blockchains maintain decentralization by restricting access to the public and allowing only a few chosen nodes to verify transactions. Apart from controlling access to the blockchain ledger, these predetermined nodes can also read and write data. Consortium blockchains may restrict permission to read the blockchain only to the participants or make it available to the public.
Consider this example of a consortium blockchain established by ten companies where each company operates a node, but Company A only transacts with Companies B and C. In such a scenario, the companies may choose to restrict the read access permissions only to those involved in the transaction.
Blockchain Platforms for the Financial Services Industry
Built on the Ant Financial and Alibaba Cloud private blockchain, Antchain BAAS is an open, cloud service platform that enables the smooth flow of real-world implementations and data traffic on the blockchain network.
Ant Duo-Chain is a blockchain-based supply chain finance platform focused on the accounts payable of core businesses. It allows the credit from such companies to circulate at individual levels, depending on the actual trades from various players in the supply chain network. It helps micro, small, and medium-sized (MSME) businesses receive financial services efficiently.
Ant Financial has collaborated with some core organizations to apply the technology in real-world cases.
Released in 2015, Corda is an open-source blockchain platform created by R3, a consortium of leading financial institutions.
By eradicating the monetary impact of business frictions, Corda enables institutions to transact directly with smart contracts.
Unlike Ripple, Corda does not have a cryptocurrency or a built-in token system. It is a permissioned blockchain platform that offers more control over privacy and access to digital records by restricting permissions across the network and only permitting authorized participants to access the data.
Although initially designed for the financial sector, Corda is also in use across various industries like supply chain, healthcare, and trade finance. Intel and Microsoft are two out of many top firms that have implemented Corda’s blockchain platform.
Developed in 2012, Ripple is a digital payments technology that processes global payments through its cryptocurrency called XRP, or Ripple, which is now as popular as Ether and Bitcoin. Through RippleNet, its decentralized global network, Ripple enables banks and payment providers to extend funds transfer services without any chargebacks.
XRP’s blockchain-powered technology can process transactions faster and offer more scalability. Ripple reaches consensus between nodes by using the probabilistic voting model.
Ripple has many projects in various deployment stages for customers intending to reduce liquidity costs, enable payment processing across multiple networks, and allow payments across borders.
To improve the speed and security of existing payment processes, notable brands like SBI Holdings, MoneyGram International, American Express, and Deloitte are experimenting with Ripple.
Empowered Collaborative Commerce Cloud, popularly known as EC3, is a blockchain-powered platform developed by Skuchain to enable end-to-end solutions for trade finance and supply chain.
Customers of the EC3 platform can create customized business workflows for their operations on the blockchain network and correspond with bank back offices at necessary touchpoints in the transaction. Such high-level flexibility can help facilitate expanded financing methods such as deep-tier financing and inventory financing.
Additionally, the platform also uses distributed ledger payment commitment (DLPC), a trade finance instrument, in place of letters of credit.
Currently, Skuchain partners with many large organizations and their associated banks to operate in several sectors including, electronics, automotive, mining and minerals, and apparel.
Stellar is a decentralized, distributed ledger network that can facilitate transactions between any type of cryptocurrency. Much like Ripple, another blockchain-based payment network, Stellar also facilitates exchanges between cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies. Stellar enables you to build banking tools, smart devices, and mobile wallets.
Stellar Consensus Protocol (SCP) executes consensus protocol without relying on a closed-loop design to store transaction data. SCP offers a set of provable safety properties which optimizes for safety over liveness. In case there are misbehaving nodes or partitions, the SCP holds off on progressing the network until it achieves consensus.
By requiring less financial and computing power than the proof of work and proof of stake algorithms, the SCP lowers entry barriers and encourages more participation from new entities.
SureRemit, a non-cash remittance service provider, uses Stellar blockchain technology to facilitate cross-border money transfers between various parties through its merchant network. ICICI Bank, NaoBTC, RippleFox, Tempo Money Transfer, and Flutterwave are other companies that have implemented Stellar technology to enable cross-border funds transfers.
TradeFinex, a hybrid blockchain operating on the XDC protocol by XinFin Network, is a blockchain agnostic middleware that can connect multiple platforms. It has already launched an agnostic integration governed by a proprietary token economy protocol that can put MSME originators in touch with decentralized liquidity pools for trade financing purposes.
TradeFinex network has global coverage and functions as both permissioned and permissionless (i.e., permissioned for authorized data exchange and permissionless for public verification). The hybrid model provides its participants with reports on accredited investors along with the net worth of their virtual assets. It also allows them to carry out offline transactions from originators using tokenization.
Recently launched by the Ant Group based on their blockchain, Antchain, Trusple is a blockchain platform whose name derives from the words trust made simple.
The platform users can upload their trading orders and generate smart contracts with automatically populated details such as logistics, making the entire process faster and more convenient.
Users can access various marketplaces like AliExpress, and even add multiple vendors who sell to other businesses.
Over the last two years, Ant Group has submitted the highest number of applications for blockchain patents.