Ethereum has consistently followed a roadmap for its continual evolution to a proof-of-stake consensus protocol, and 2020 saw the groundwork for Ethereum 2.0 soundly laid. The smart contract blockchain has firmly established itself as a platform backed by the second-most valuable cryptocurrency in the world, Ether (ETH), and has become a primary resource for developers to build blockchain-based applications and tools.
The emergence of the decentralized finance sector has been largely built on top of the Ethereum blockchain, adding credence to the platform’s decentralized functionality. The surge in the use of the blockchain has come at a steep price though, as network speed and transaction costs are directly affected as more users and platforms are added to the blockchain. This is a driving force behind the transition to Eth2, which is already underway.
There seems to have been plenty of positive sentiment toward the ongoing shift to Eth2 in 2020, and there’s a sense of great anticipation for the project at the dawn of a new year. So, what are the main hopes for the next step in Ethereum’s evolution in 2021?
Eth2, in a nutshell
Ethereum 2.0 is the next step in the blockchain’s move from a proof-of-work consensus protocol to a proof-of-stake algorithm. This is an integral part of Ethereum’s development to make the blockchain more scalable, secure and sustainable. The goal is for it to support thousands of transactions per second in order to make applications faster and cheaper to use.
Security is a chief concern, and a move to proof-of-stake needs to ensure that the protocol is more secure against all forms of attack. Last, but not least, the shift away from PoW is integral in limiting the environmental effect the Ethereum network has. The network, in its current state, requires a lot of computing power and electricity to remain sustainable.
The first phase is the Beacon Chain, which is responsible for introducing PoS to the protocol and was launched on Dec. 1, 2020. Eth2 users can now stake ETH and become a validator of the network. Being a full validator requires users to stake 32 ETH and will see those users process transactions and create new blocks on the chain. This is imagined as the future of securing the Ethereum network and will eventually replace the current energy-sapping PoW consensus mechanism.
With the Beacon Chain live, the next step is the launch of shard chains, which is earmarked to take place sometime this year. Without getting into the finer details, sharding allows a database to be split up to spread workload. Ethereum will use shard chains to reduce network congestion and increase transaction speed. It will also greatly reduce the hardware requirements of running a node. The plan is to create 64 shard chains.
The Beacon Chain will eventually assign certain shard chains to various validators, which will spread out the work needed to validate the Ethereum blockchain. The first iteration of these shard chains won’t handle transactions or smart contracts but will store and manage data on the network.
The long-term goal is to combine shards with rollups, which essentially bundle transactions off-chain to be subsequently submitted back to the mainnet. This should greatly improve the transaction processing capability of the Ethereum network.
A vote of confidence
Cointelegraph reached out to a couple of individuals working at the front line of Ethereum’s ongoing development. Ben Edgington, lead product owner of Teku — an Eth2 client created by ConsenSys and designed for enterprise and institutional stakers — has been directly involved in the research and development of Eth2.
A major talking point of the ongoing shift to Eth2 has been the amount of ETH staked in the Beacon Chain contract. Edgington told Cointelegraph that the community’s willingness to participate in staking has been very positive for developers:
“The amount ETH already staked is an immense vote of confidence, not only in the Beacon Chain, but also in the future of Ethereum. I am impressed by how much has come in so quickly, and greatly encouraged by the commitment of the Ethereum community to what we have built, and will be continuing to build.”
Edgington added that the launch of the Beacon Chain was arguably the most difficult part of the Eth2 project and was a huge milestone that has boosted confidence for the upcoming stages in Ethereum’s journey.
Viktor Bunin, protocol specialist at blockchain infrastructure provider Bison Trails, told Cointelegraph that the ongoing staking of ETH shows there’s a lot of support from the community in the future of the protocol, adding:
“I was surprised that the inflows have continued to be so large and think there’s a chance that the queue to enter Eth2 does not run dry for all of 2021, meaning there is always a wait for a validator to join the network because so many are trying to join simultaneously.”
Lubin and Buterin have high hopes as well
In early December 2020, ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin suggested that the transition to the next phase of Eth2 could happen faster than expected, given that the Beacon Chain was live. “People in the know around the ecosystem are very optimistic about how fast things could unfold, as the really complicated work has been done in launching Phase 0,” Lubin said during the “Ethereum in the Enterprise — Asia Pacific 2020” conference.
Lubin added that the Ethereum Foundation is expecting shards to drastically improve data availability on the Ethereum blockchain when they are deployed. He went as far as saying that Eth2 could absorb Eth1 “in the not too distant future.”
Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin gave some insights into the ongoing development of the ecosystem in an online meetup hosted on YouTube by Ethereum Buenos Aires on Dec. 29, 2020. He highlighted key goals for the Ethereum ecosystem in the coming 12 months. A primary concern is the current cost of transactions on the blockchain, which Buterin said is still a sticking point: “We need to be working very hard on making sure that there’s more space for transactions so that we don’t have this dynamic where everyone is bidding for a very small amount of space so that only very few transactions can get in.”
Buterin also said that the aim for Ethereum is to be able to support hundreds of millions of users within the next few years, but right now, the blockchain can only support 15 to 45 transactions per second.
Buterin then went through a medium-term scalability roadmap and highlighted the potential for rollups to allow the network to process 1,000 to 4,000 transactions per second. When Eth2 sharding and rollups are deployed together, Buterin highlighted the potential for 25,000 to 100,000 transactions processed per second.
The Ethereum co-founder closed by saying that by the end of 2021, he hopes to see the current development roadmap of both the Eth1 (PoW) and Eth2 (PoS) chains completed and to have testnets running for the complete integration of the two chains along with sharding capability, adding: “Potentially, the light client support for the proof-of-stake chain even before the merge could be used to provide better light client support for the proof-of-work chain.”
Ethereum developers trust the process
According to those involved, a common theme that has emerged during the ongoing evolution of Ethereum has been a focus on quality. Although timelines have been established, developers have been more concerned with building and implementing upgrades that are not rushed.
Bunin told Cointelegraph that various Ethereum users, developers and companies that he’d been in contact with over the past few years have expressed unhappiness with the length of time it took to launch the Beacon Chain but that they were excited by the news of the launch:
“They did not take shortcuts with the Phase 0 design and were not afraid to go back to the drawing board after failed attempts or upon discovering new optimizations. They will and should continue to optimize for the best design rather than speed of execution.”
As Buterin mentioned in December 2020, the roadmap for 2021 includes development goals for both Eth1 and Eth2. The latter includes work on shard chains, which promise to improve the scalability of the protocol. Edgington said he was hoping to see shard chains launched by the end of the year but that it will be dependent on the sheer scale of work to be done in 2021:
“The design for sharding is well advanced and I expect we’ll make excellent progress towards implementing it this year. I’d personally hope to see shard chains launched in 2021, but we don’t yet have a target date. In addition, we have brought forward the merger of Eth1 and Eth2 in the roadmap, so we will be working on that in parallel with sharding.”
There is no denying that there is pressure to deliver these performance-improving upgrades in 2021. DeFi was a major subject in 2020 and has added some strain to the Ethereum blockchain. However, Edgington reiterated the view that the community of developers would not be reactive to these kinds of pressures in their approach in the new year: “There’s always been a sense of urgency, irrespective of DeFi! […] The tension between doing things right, and doing them quickly is always present, but I feel that we are in a reasonable place.”
Bunin also believes that the development of shard chains won’t necessarily be expedited and said that developers’ mindsets are optimized for quality because they “are building the financial infrastructure of the next century.” He added: “My expectation is that shard chains will be launched by the end of 2021, but I am also comfortable if they are delayed.”
DeFi surge, rising TVL and new partnerships underpin Ren’s 100% rally
Interoperability between blockchains is rapidly becoming one of the buzz phrases being thrown around when discussing decentralized finance and the coins most likely to rally during an altcoin bull run.
The rapid growth of DeFi, its ever expanding total value locked and soaring ETH gas fees further highlight the sector’s need for a layer 2 option that also supports the ability to transact value across different networks.
REN’s open protocol is designed specifically to fill this need by providing interoperability and liquidity between the top blockchains including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Zcash.
Over the past three weeks the price of REN has increased by more than 200%, going from $0.251 on Dec. 27 to a new all-time high of $0.778 on Jan. 20 driven by a record $369 million in 24-hour volume.
Three reasons for the recent price surge in the price of REN include the announcement of a collaboration with Google, the continued increase in total value locked on the platform and the ability to earn passive income in multiple cryptocurrencies through the operation of a darknode.
Google software pivot boosts sentiment, addresses RENvm scaling issues
On Jan.19 the REN team tweeted:
Ren has been researching & building on @Asylodev, an open and flexible framework by @Google. @GCPCloud confidential computing relaxes RenVM’s economic constraints, allowing for an unbounded scaling solution. #RenVM.”
Not long after the tweet, REN price began to rally to a new all-time high. As mentioned in the tweet, Asylo is an open and flexible framework from Google designed to help build portable applications that run on Secure Enclave hardware.
The secure enclave hardware allows users to run general-purpose applications in a secure environment where both the data, and the application itself, cannot be compromised by anyone, including the user. This makes for a more secure experience for all parties involved and helps protect against malicious code and backdoor attacks.
Asylo also makes it possible to port an application from one type of hardware to the next, meaning that developers can support multiple implementations with relative ease, including Intel implementations, AMD implementations, and any others that appear in the future. The diversity of choice this allows is an important feature to ensure decentralization on the network.
Total value locked soars to a new high
Community engagement and added value are key factors when it comes to the long-term success of a blockchain project.
Since the release of the Ren virtual machine mainnet (RenVM) in May 2020, engagement on the platform has steadily increased as Bitcoin holders now had another way to bring their BTC to Ethereum and the growing DeFi space.
As seen in the chart below, the total value locked on the Ren platform reached a new all-time high of $653.6 million on Jan. 20 and a total of 14,670 BTC are locked on the platform to create renBTC.
The list of assets that RenVM supports continues to grow with BTC, Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Zcash (ZEC), Filecoin (FIL), Terra (LUNA), Dogecoin (DOGE) and Digibyte (DGB) currently available to transact on the Ethereum and Binance blockchains.
Development is currently underway to make it possible to interact on the Polkadot (DOT), Solana (SOL) and Cosmos (ATOM) networks as well, which would further enhance the interoperability provided.
Darknodes, passive income and a decreasing supply
The third driving force behind the recent price appreciation of REN relates to the Ren token use case and how it can help users earn passive income. RenVM is a network of virtual computers that make up a virtual machine, which are also referred to as Darknodes.
REN token holders who wish to operate a darknode need to lock up 100,000 REN which wiil enable them to process transactions on the network and earn a fee in the form of the token transacted. Thus, a darknode operator has the opportunity to earn passive income in the form of multiple different cryptocurrencies from one location.
As can be seen in the above graphic, 17.13% of REN’s total supply is currently bonded on the platform and supports the operation of darknodes.
During the most recently completed cycle, the network as a whole earned $839,128 in fees in the form of BTC, ZEC, FIL and BCH. The total network fees collected since the launch of the RenVM equals $2.975 million.
The continued addition of new tokens and interoperability with new blockchains will likely see increased usage of the network and an increase in the amount of fees earned. At the current price of $0.6157 it costs $61,570 to operate a darknode.
As activity on the network increases, the amount of fees generated will also increase, making it even more lucrative for token holders to operate a darknode. This has the potential to lead to further price appreciation from REN as every new darknode results in a direct decrease in its circulating supply.
The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.
The virtuous cycle of social engagement with crypto
One of the tropes that observers commonly invoke to explain the forces behind the crypto markets’ surge at the end of 2020 and in early 2021 is that the process has been mainly driven by the inrush of institutional investment.
While there are many good reasons to believe that the race among the big players of traditional finance to get into digital assets has indeed provided much fodder for the blast, the overwhelming focus on this narrative can make it seem that retail investors had a little role to play.
Shifting the spotlight away from the public can be misguided because blockchain is fundamentally a social technology. Bitcoin (BTC) as an investment vehicle would struggle to exist without the bustling Main Street marketplace and a social media arena where market-driving narratives emerge and clash.
Surging prices = Surging interest
Perhaps the easiest trend to capture is the surge in search activity coinciding with rapid gains in crypto prices. One established metric is the volume of Google searches of cryptocurrency-related terms. In the week of Jan. 3, Google Trends’ global interest over time index for the term “Bitcoin” reached the value of 68, which amounts to more than two-thirds of the all-time high registered in the week of Dec. 17, at the height of the previous record-breaking bull run in 2017–2018.
Frantically, searching for the meaning of basic crypto terms amid the hype waves rocking the internet in the wake of a major price rally could be indicative of a potential newcomer’s first impulse to educate oneself on the subject. While this is a necessary first step for eventually becoming involved with digital assets in a more tangible way, search data alone only reveals a fraction of how deep engagement truly is. Spikes in searches could as well be a marker of a FOMO-driven behavior that does not translate into more meaningful activity once the hype dies down.
The volume of traffic going to specialized cryptocurrency analytics websites could be a somewhat more precise marker of the arrival of a new wave of the crypto-curious who are willing to do their reading beyond headlines. CoinGecko, one of the major crypto data aggregators, shared some of its internal analytics to provide a sense of how much more engagement they have received against the backdrop of the recent market surge. The firm’s co-founder and chief operating officer, Bobby Ong, commented to Cointelegraph:
“We saw a 77% increase to our Bitcoin page in the past 30 days [between Dec. 13 and Jan. 13] when compared to the previous period. Views to our Ethereum page increased by 90% during this period, too. Overall, our traffic increased 43% during this period.”
Still, there is no way to tell what share of these gains has been driven by newcomers versus returning crypto investors.
If we accept that participating in a Twitter discussion about cryptocurrency is more likely to reveal a meaningful engagement with the digital asset space than simply looking up what Bitcoin is, there is some good news in fresh data.
While the indicators of generic interest as gauged by Google Trends in the wake of the recent rally failed to surpass the highs of late-2017, several metrics related to Twitter conversations have hit all-time highs. Treyce Dahlem, a research analyst at The Tie — a digital assets data provider — explained to Cointelegraph:
“While institutions may have started this crypto rally, retail has definitely arrived. The average number of daily Twitter users talking about Bitcoin has hit a new all-time high of 35,883, breaking the previous high of 35,181, set back in January of 2018. This is huge, as this shows that retail investors are here and excited about Bitcoin.”
Dahlem added that the share of tweets about Bitcoin coming from unique Twitter accounts has also reached a record high at 53.3%, suggesting that the increased volume of conversation is fueled by new users jumping in and not just the intensified discussions among the existing participants of Crypto Twitter.
An even more challenging task is to gauge the state of crypto awareness and adoption that predated the latest price spike. This type of insight could lend credence to the argument that increased retail investors’ engagement could not only stem from the crypto markets’ surge but at least partly fuel it.
The type of data best suited for answering broad, population-level questions around the share of people who know about digital assets and use them can be obtained through surveys. While there are plenty of crypto-related surveys, few of them even aspire to reach any level of representativeness, much less systematically apply the same methodology across several time points to reliably track the dynamics.
One exception is perhaps the Crypto Survey fielded by venture company Blockchain Capital every 18 months, starting in the fall of 2017. It uses a sample of U.S. adults that is weighted such that all key demographic characteristics are represented in a proportion similar to the general population. The latest round of data, collected in October 2020, speaks to the Americans’ rapid progression through what the authors of the report labeled the “adoption funnel.”
According to the survey results, less than two months before crypto markets rallied in December, 90% of U.S. residents reported having heard of Bitcoin; 45% were at least somewhat familiar with it; 45% agreed that it is a positive innovation; 41% were convinced that most people will be using Bitcoin in the next 10 years; and 34% said that they were likely to purchase Bitcoin in the next five years. For each of these metrics, sizable increases from respective spring 2019 values were apparent.
Related: Access denied: Banks seem prone to cryptophobia despite growing adoption
These trends are not exclusive to the United States or even to the elite club of the world’s most developed economies. Occasional reports from a wide array of nations, from Australia to Nigeria, highlighted that in 2020, people around the globe have been getting familiar with digital assets and joining the ranks of crypto users at rates that could only be explained by fundamental factors.
Granted, newsworthy bull runs and accompanying spikes in online attention help accelerate engagement and subsequent adoption of crypto, but it’s this virtuous cycle that is the expanding adoption that, in turn, allows markets to thrive.
Alleged ‘ghost’ Bitcoin mining firm traded on Nasdaq faces class action lawsuit
Bit Digital (BTBT), a Bitcoin mining company traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange, is the subject of a class-action lawsuit that alleges the company fabricated the extent of its Bitcoin (BTC) mining operations.
According to the lawsuit which was filed in the Southern District New York court on Jan. 20 by plaintiff Anthony Pauwels, Bit Digital misled investors and made materially false claims about the extent of their Bitcoin mining business, causing significant financial harm for investors.
Specifically, the plaintiffs reference an investigative report by J Capital Research which claims Bit Digital simply lied about having Bitcoin mining farms in operation across China. The firm’s website claims to have over 40,000 mining rigs currently in operation, exerting a hash rate of 2,253 PH/s, having successfully mined over 1,500 BTC since the beginning of 2020.
However, researchers at J Capital say they contacted government officials in the Chinese provinces in which Bit Digital claimed to operate, only to find that no one had ever heard of them.
When J Capital’s research hit the news headlines, Bit Digital’s stock price plummeted 25%. From BTBT’s peak valuation of $29.27 in early January, the stock price has since fallen 44%, to the current valuation of around $16.
Bit Digital issued a response to the claims made by J Capital on Jan. 19, pointing out that the company had filed all of its documentation with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and had always sought to update investors and regulators with accurate data.
However, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Bit Digital say the firm’s executive ownership — CEO Min Hu and chief financial officer Erke Huang — were in a position to dictate the contents of any and all documents relating to the running of the business:
“Because of their positions with the Company, [Hu and Huang] possessed the power and authority to control the contents of the Company’s reports to the SEC, press releases and presentations to securities analysts, money and portfolio managers and institutional investors, i.e., the market.”
Pauwels seeks reparations for the 1,000 units of BTBT shares he purchased at a price of $21.81 per share on Dec. 12, 2020, as well as any other compensatory damages, court fees and expenses.
The plaintiff demanded a trial by jury. No legal response has been made by Bit Digital at this time, nor did the company respond to Cointelegraph’s request for comment.
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