It's a digital currency dogged by controversy, but starting today, Toronto will have more bitcoin machines than anywhere else in the world.
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Cavirtex, which bills itself as Canada's largest bitcoin exchange and service provider, will roll out six "BTM" machines in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., starting Tuesday. The machines will be placed inside Gateway newsstand locations. Cavirtex has plans to add four other machines in:
The company says the machines will allow users to buy and sell up to $3,000 Cdn worth of the digital currency.
Company CEO Joseph David says adding the machines "is a significant milestone that will let anyone with a cellphone and cash buy bitcoins instantly."
Created in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis of the late-2000s, bitcoins were introduced in 2009 as an alternative payment system to paper currencies.
Bitcoins allow users to transfer money over the internet, with little or no fees.
But they aren't backed by any central bank, and have been dogged by wild swings in their exchange value and some very high-profile security breaches. Regulators have also issued warnings about bitcoins, pointing out that unlike bank accounts, bitcoin deposits are not insured by governments.
The bitcoin is based on a peer-to-peer computer network akin to those that form the basis of file-sharing system BitTorrent.
Holders store their bitcoins in digital wallets, and electronically send them to each other to pay for goods and services.
The value of the bitcoin has fluctuated dramatically over its short lifespan, from $0.08 US in July 2010 to over $1,200 US in November 2013. As of Wednesday, the Cavirtex website listed Bitcoins trading at just over $600 Canadian.
Among high-profile security breaches that have occurred, thieves and hackers have left bitcoin holders empty-handed.
The most serious incident occurred when Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that at one point handled 70 per cent of all worldwide transactions, lost about $450 million US worth of the cryptocurrency.
Started in 2011, Calgary-based Cavirtex claims to have handled more than $90 million Cdn in bitcoin exchanges.
Kyle Kemper, Cavirtex's vice-president of business development, appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday to talk about the new machines.
He said their arrival is proof that the bitcoin is coming of age.
"As more and more people come on board, I think we're going to find price stability," he told host Matt Galloway.
Kemper said bitcoin can currently be used to buy everything from Dell computers to airline tickets on Expedia.
"It's the future of money," he said. "We haven't seen innovation in the banking centre for a long time."
The machines are being placed in the following GTA locations:
- Square One, Mississauga.
- Yonge St. and St. Clair Ave.
- Brookfield Place (181 Bay St.).
- Scarborough Town Centre.
- Fairview Mall.
- Yorkdale Shopping Centre.