When the calendar does finally turn on 2017, investors are liable to look back in awe at a truly remarkable year for cryptocurrencies. According to data from CoinMarketCap.com on the aggregate value of more than 1,300 digital currencies, the total cryptocurrency market cap is just over a half-trillion dollars ($503 billion) as of Dec. 12. Mind you, it began the year at just $17.7 billion. 

Not surprisingly, bitcoin has stolen the show. Its current market cap comprises roughly 58% of the half-trillion in total crypto-market value, and as the most popular cryptocurrency, it garners most of the attention. With regard to bitcoin, investors have flocked to it as a result of the weaker U.S. dollar, as well as growth in the number of merchants who now accept it as a form of payment.

A physical silver and gold Ripple coin.

Image source: Getty Images.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Ripple

But I've got news for investors: There's a lot going on in the cryptocurrency space beyond just bitcoin. Perhaps what's most impressive is that the aggregate value of all cryptocurrencies not named "bitcoin" have risen by approximately 10,000% this year to $211 billion. It's really these nascent players that have delivered the most impressive gains in 2017, and it's these names that are often debated as being "the next bitcoin."

One such cryptocurrency that's put on a clinic in 2017 is Ripple, which skyrocketed 55% this past Tuesday, and is the fifth-largest cryptocurrency by market cap at $15.3 billion. Since the beginning of the year, Ripple's virtual currency, the XRP, has risen by nearly 6,000%! Again, these are gains over the past 11-1/2 months that some investors may not be privy to during the entirety of their lifetimes. After all, the greatest long-term creator of wealth, the stock market, grows by an average of 7% per year, inclusive of dividend investment and adjusted for inflation.

Ripple's blockchain is creating a lot of buzz

Why the amazing run for Ripple? Like bitcoin, crypto-euphoria has helped bring new money into the space and coerced investors to buy in out of the fear of missing out on further gains. But more specifically to Ripple (relative to bitcoin), we've witnessed tons of excitement surrounding blockchain technology. Blockchain is the digital and decentralized ledger that underlies most virtual currencies and is responsible for logging all transactions.

What's the buzz surrounding blockchain, you ask? To begin with, and as noted, it's a decentralized system. Rather than there being a central hub where all data is stored, bits and pieces of data are stored all over the globe, ensuring that cybercriminals can't cripple a cryptocurrency by gaining control of a server or hard drive.

A man observing an illustration of blockchain technology, with multiple binary-coded blocks linked together.

Image source: Getty Images.

Blockchain technology also cuts out the third-party middleman (usually a bank) that oversees a transaction. With no financial intermediary involved, and therefore no costs associated with paying a third party, the costs to complete money transmittance across blockchain could be cheaper than the current networks.

It also offers the means to transmit money at a substantial quicker pace. Remember, today's banks close for the weekend and often hold cross-border transactions for days. Comparatively, cross-border transactions conducted via blockchain might be instantaneous, or at the very least considerably quicker, given that transaction proofing is occurring 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

These big banks are testing out Ripple's blockchain technology

But the important thing here for Ripple, and investors in the XRP virtual currency tethered to its blockchain, is that it's found quite a few big banking partners willing to take its blockchain for a spin.

As announced in June 2016, Ripple added seven global banking institutions as partners to test out its distributed ledger technology. These partners included the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM 0.60%), which is better known as CIBC, Swiss-based UBS (UBS -0.72%), Spain's Banco Santander (SAN), and Italy's Unicredit (UNCF.F 0.49%).

A person programming blockchain code on their laptop.

Image source: Getty Images.

While these projects have mostly involved internal testing, Ripple CEO Chris Larsen told Coindesk in an interview last year, "We've reached the stage where a significant number of these banks are moving to commercial production. What's significant here is the space is moving beyond experimentation and moving into actually deploying" Ripple's blockchain. 

And that's not all. In November, Ripple announced that American Express (AXP -0.55%) and Banco Santander's U.K. unit were teaming up to use Ripple's blockchain in a real-world payment scenario. American Express customers making non-card payments to U.K. Santander bank accounts via AmEx's FX International Payment network will now have those payments processed through Ripple's blockchain. It's the belief that these payments can settle instantly, as opposed to potentially waiting days, as is common in cross-border transactions.

It'll also be interesting to see how the XRP could play into these partnerships in the future. Though most big banks have preferred dealing with traditional forms of currency, it's always possible the XRP could play a role in the future as a means to instantly exchange fiat currencies, or speed up payment-processing times. 

Don't currently have Ripple and its blockchain technology on your radar? Perhaps now is the perfect time to change that.