Vitalik Buterin has said in an interview that the Ethereum network is running close to capacity, and that using the network will become “even five times more expensive” if a large company decided to join, which is one reason why mainstream adoption is slow in coming. Speaking to The Star during the Blockchain Futurist Conference held earlier this month in Toronto, where Buterin was raised, the Ethereum founder highlighted the issue when discussing scalability on the blockchain, offering his thoughts on how it can be scaled efficiently to encourage the kind of adoption blockchain enthusiasts dream about.
The Ghost of Cryptokitties Remains
Ethereum’s inefficiencies were laid bare in late 2017 at the peak of the crypto bull run when Cryptokitties, collectable kittens on the Ethereum blockchain, clogged up the network so badly that successfully sending funds was a hit and miss affair, with ICO contributors engaging in frequent ‘gas wars’, where they were forced to pay higher and higher transaction fees just to get funds through. This highlighted just how far off mainstream adoption blockchain technology was at the time, and as the below chart shows the network utilization is not far off those 2017 highs.
Buterin suggests that the way to remove these bottlenecks is to change the verification methods the blockchains utilize:
The main problem with the current blockchain is this idea that every computer has to verify every transaction. If we can move to networks where every computer on average verifies only a small portion of transactions then it can be done better.
Stating that this would bring a “fairly modest” security sacrifice, Buterin believes that this would be vastly outweighed by the reduction in cost, which would be “by a factor of over 100 for every transaction”.
Scalability not the Only Problem
Scalability is not, however, the only issue preventing mainstream adoption of blockchain technology in this current form, according to Buterin. He also cites well-publicized account security problems, and questions how, even when the tech is there, developers will turn blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies into something that everyday people will really want to use. This is where the parallels between blockchain technology and the internet strike again – the internet began to reach homes in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until many years afterwards that ‘killer apps’ such as online shopping, online entertainment, and social media really showed what the internet could do. Once blockchain has a killer app, and the scaling to cope with demand, it’s time will finally have come.