Last month Ethereum completed a major upgrade, moving the platform one step closer to Ethereum 2.0 and final status. Named Istanbul, the upgrade took place via a hard fork, and appears to have had no major complications. This progress has only served to strengthen Etherum’s position as the top altcoin and second most valuable cryptocurrency. Nevertheless, challenges continue to present themselves, and Ethereum remains tied to the overall market conditions.
Istanbul is the fifth installment in the Metropolis phase of the Ethereum road map, and it makes a number of improvements. Notably, it increases the platform’s layer-2 scaling capabilities, and stabilizes the gas costs for many operations. It also enables the platform to perform atomic swaps with Zcash, and introduces new functions to smart contracts. The next two major upgrades, Muir Glacier and Berlin, are planned for deployment in the first half of 2020. Once these are complete, Ethereum can enter its final development phase, named Serenity.
In addition to this technical development, Ethereum use is increasing. Quite a few Ethereum-based tokens and apps are making impressive strides. For example, ChainLink has forged some notable partnerships over the past year, and is now well within the top twenty coins in terms of market cap. Decentralized finance (DeFi) is also growing rapidly on the Ethereum network. In fact, there is presently USD $650 million in Ether locked in DeFi contracts, up from only $10 million two years ago.
Of course, not all Ethereum news is positive. The price of Ether is presently USD $140, which is a drop of over fifty percent since its yearly peak in June, and about where it was when the year began. More importantly, Ethereum’s market share has been slipping for over two years, and now sits at eight percent. It thus appears that whereas the platform is clearly seeing an increase in use, so to are its top competitors.
Perhaps Ethereum’s greatest asset is its development team, which is the largest in the blockchain space, and has maintained a unified vision for platform growth. Because of Ethereum’s first mover advantage and near universal support from exchanges and wallets, the team can focus its resources on technical issues rather than promotion and marketing. Its talent is second-to-none, and has enabled Ethereum to hold a unique place as a platform with very few critics.
If progress moves according to plan, the second half of next year will begin Ethereum’s greatest challenge, and most active development phase. Serenity will involve a transition to a proof-of-stake consensus model, and also introduce sharding, which will enable significant scaling by creating multiple chains. Achieving this upgrade will not be easy, as it will require the creation of a parallel Ethereum chain and the shut down of the present network. In fact, many of the details have yet to be released, and some experts are skeptical of the team’s ability to pull it off.
Even under the best circumstances Ethereum will not achieve its final form until at least 2022. Much will happen in the blockchain space between now and then, with other platforms all but certain to make notable inroads toward mass adoption. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine a future where Ethereum does not play a role in global decentralized ledgers.
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