One of the world’s first central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) – the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB)’s DCash – is poised to return to circulation this week after ‘several upgrades’ to its platform during a service interruption lasting almost two months.
The ECCB, the monetary authority for eight island economies including St Lucia and Grenada, launched blockchain-based DCash almost one year ago, in doing so becoming the first ‘live’ CBDC within a currency union. But the central bank posted a ‘region-wide service interruption’ notice on 14 January stating that a break in service had been triggered by a ‘technical issue and the subsequent necessity for additional upgrades’.
The central bank posted a DCash service update on 3 March stating that it was ‘completing the final testing and assurance exercises following system upgrades and will make the DCash platform available for public use next week’ (week commencing 7 March: today). The notice includes newly stated ambitions including government to consumer payments.
The central bank reflects on the breakdown as a ‘learning experience for the ECCB and for the entire central bank digital currency (CDBC) community’ and states that ‘with humility, we continue to test and learn (an essential ingredient for innovation) as we press forward with the payments revolution for the people of our region.’
Its update goes on to state that the upgrades ‘have further strengthened the robust security mechanisms, which ultimately underpin the DCash technology, resulting in a more resilient product.’
DCash’s problem identified
The ECCB explains that updates to the DCash platform include enhancing the system’s certificate management processes – which have been pinpointed as the initial cause of the interruption – and updating the version of Hyperledger Fabric, the foundation of the DCash platform.
Hyperledger Fabric is an open-source permissioned blockchain framework launched seven years ago by California-headquartered non-profit the Linux Foundation.
DCash has been developed in conjunction with a fintech company, Bitt. The Barbados-based company has itself posted a ‘DCash Service Interruption’ notice on its website, going into further technical detail.
Explaining that the cause of the interruption was identity certificate expiration on each of the nodes in the Hyperledger Fabric network, Bitt states that the service interruption impacted only the processing of new transactions. ‘The security and integrity of all DCash applications including the Digital Currency Management System and Numa architecture — as well as all central bank, financial institutions, merchant and wallet apps — remained secure and unaffected,’ Bitt adds.
Bitt goes on to state that it will publish technical details of this service interruption via the Linux Foundation ‘so that the entire Fabric community can benefit from our findings.’
‘The challenges we’re experiencing today helps us to improve the maturity and resiliency of our deployments,’ Bitt’s statement continues. It describes the interruption as ‘isolated’ and that it ‘does not impact any of Bitt’s other global projects, the insights that we have gained will improve Bitt’s client offering and the entire digital currency industry’.
DCash: new features planned
The digital version of the Eastern Caribbean dollar initially launched in four of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU)’s territories – Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Saint Christopher (St Kitts) and Nevis, and Saint Lucia. The ECCB extended DCash use to St Vincent and the Grenadines four months afterwards, then to Montserrat and the Commonwealth of Dominica.
The central bank’s original ambition was to be live across all eight island economies by September 2021. It is yet to go live in Anguilla.
‘As we look to the future, several new features will be added to the list of DCash functionalities and tested as part of the pilot,’ reads the ECCB’s 3 March statement (which Global Government Fintech reproduces in full below this article). ‘These include the introduction of an e-commerce function, which will allow business owners to accept DCash via their websites; government to consumer payments; and the rollout of the pilot to the final ECCB member country, Anguilla.’
Marking DCash’s debut on 31 March 2021, the ECCB described its launch as the ‘climax of over two years of extensive research, consultations, planning, software development, operational training, merchant acquisition, customer service, and marketing achieved through collaboration with the ECCB, Bitt and multiple external stakeholders’.
The ECCB told Global Government Fintech on 18 January that the authority (at the time) expected to have full resumption of DCash service “before the end of the current week.”
DCash back in action: the ECCB’s update in full (3 March 2022)
‘The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) is completing the final testing and assurance exercises following the system upgrades and will make the DCash platform available for public use, next week.
‘The road to DCash has been a novel and rewarding journey though not without its challenges. In January 2022, the DCash system experienced its first interruption since its launch in March 2021. As a result, the processing of new transactions on the DCash network was halted. This interruption was not caused by any external intervention. The security and integrity of all DCash data, applications and architecture, including all central bank, financial institutions, merchant and wallet apps remain secure and intact.
‘Following the interruption, the ECCB took the opportunity to undertake several upgrades to the DCash platform including enhancing the system’s certificate management processes – the initial cause of the interruption, and updating the version of Hyperledger Fabric, the foundation of the DCash platform. These upgrades have further strengthened the robust security mechanisms, which ultimately underpin the DCash technology, resulting in a more resilient product.
‘The process of introducing a digital sovereign currency was a major feat, which saw the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) becoming the first currency union in the world to issue a digital currency. This is a learning experience for the ECCB and for the entire CDBC community.
‘Despite the recent service disruption, we affirm our commitment to the financial inclusion agenda. The people of the ECCU remain at the centre of the DCash pilot. With humility, we continue to test and learn (an essential ingredient for innovation) as we press forward with the payments revolution for the people of our region.
‘As we look to the future, several new features will be added to the list of DCash functionalities and tested as part of the pilot. These include the introduction of an e-commerce function, which will allow business owners to accept DCash via their websites; government to consumer payments; and the rollout of the pilot to the final ECCB member country, Anguilla.
‘DCash is transformative and consequential in providing a faster, safer and cheaper payment platform. Within the confines of a pilot or test environment, the ECCB will continue to evaluate the DCash product and its infrastructure and ensure that adjustments are continually made for the overall enhancement of the product prior to commercialisation.
‘Finally, the ECCB again acknowledges the inconvenience caused because of the service interruption. We assure you that the ECCB remains committed to serving the people of the ECCU and helping to promote shared prosperity by creating real opportunities for positive transformation.’
Source: ECCB website (posted on 3 March 2022)
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‘Eastern Caribbean digital currency DCash hit by “service interruption”’ – our news story (19 January 2022) on DCash’s ‘technical issue’
‘DCash digital currency to aid island’s recovery from volcanic eruption’ – our news story (9 August 2021) on the CBDC becoming available for public use in St Vincent and the Grenadines‘
‘Eastern Caribbean nations roll out blockchain-based digital currency’ – our news story (4 April 2021) on DCash’s launch