Banks and Blockchain Transactions – Which Is Better?

Many cryptocurrency critics believe that blockchain transactions are far too slow to be ever applicable for mass adoption within banking and financial institutions, failing to understand blockchain and cryptocurrency technology is still in its infancy.  In this post, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each system and explore the future of payment systems.

Banks and payment systems look in some ways more efficient than blockchain transactions, but in many cases, they’re actually more involved. In fact, as soon as they’re being used to make cross-border payments and settlements, they start to reveal some flaws. They, too, can become slow, expensive, or worse – they can lock people out through no fault of their own, and for no apparent reason.

Bank-to-bank transactions through SWIFT network take three to five working days to reach its destination, which is extremely slow by cryptocurrency standards. In contrast, an average person with no connection to a bank or money transfer service can securely send and receive Bitcoin anywhere around the world with just a smartphone and a stable Internet connection in as short as ten to fifteen minutes without the risk of being censored out by the system.

Wire transfers cost somewhere between $10 to $30, plus 6% spread on foreign exchanges. In other words, if you’re sending $5,000 from Australia to Canada, you’ll pay as much as $330 on that single transaction. This doesn’t account for differences in rates from country to country (fees for sending money from US to Africa can be as high as 15%).

Bitcoin’s transaction fees peak at around $55 in December 2017 during a massive buying spree. But most of the time, sending Bitcoin to someone anywhere around the world will only cost a fraction of a dollar, to as high as $10 depending on priority and network load. And since it’s considered a borderless, global currency, users can forget about foreign exchange rates.

Companies like Abra have been using Bitcoin as a cheaper alternative to international settlement systems. Interestingly, certain banks like the ones in the Philippines allow remittances using Bitcoin, and recipients can take their pesos straight out of the ATM without an ATM card or a bank account.

Within the cryptocurrency ecosystem, on-chain and off-chain implementations can have a significant impact both on energy consumption and transaction throughputs. As a general rule, the more it shifts toward decentralization, the more challenges it needs to deal with scaling; but as more features become centralized, the more scalable it becomes. How these challenges will be overcome in the next couple of decades is anybody’s guess.

Some of the proposed on-chain solutions is the move towards proof-of-stake consensus algorithm (e.g., Ethereum Casper), and delegated proof-of-stake (e.g. EOS and Cardano). Off-chain solution include Lightning Network (e.g. Bitcoin), and side-chains. Improving the blockchain’s inner workings not only helps with efficiency, but also makes energy consumption more manageable.

 

Conclusion

Cryptocurrency might not be as nimble as people would expect from banks when it comes to local micro-transactions. However, we’ve seen some progress lately, with SegWit adoption being used in 40% of all Bitcoin transactions, enabling shorter confirmation times, significantly lower fees, and Lightning Network integration. Users can start experimenting with Lightning wallets in their beta version (Eclair, Zap, RawTX, etc.), and buy small stuff from online stores like the ones made by Blockstream specifically for that purpose.

Cryptocurrency will only get better as time goes by, and we’ve already seen some progress from greener solutions, to mining hardware, and software development. There’s no limit to the number of ways cryptocurrency can solve many of its challenges. All it takes is an open mind and a little bit of creativity.

 

The Top Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Projects in 2018

There’s been a change in the outlook for cryptocurrency during the past few months. People seldom talk about the markets or the price of Bitcoin. Volatility has been causing a lot of uncertainty, and mainstream adoption came to a virtual standstill.

Nonetheless, the cryptocurrency space showed remarkable resilience as blockchain projects continue to expand its borders with more lateral thinking and “out-of-the-box” blockchain solutions. We’ll explore some of their use-cases and find out whether these currencies and platforms are the next big thing.

 

Why People Invest in These Projects

Despite the recent lull in cryptocurrency trading and mining, blockchain projects and ICOs are very much in the business for 2018. Investors and tech companies remain optimistic about the future of the cryptocurrency space amidst tightening restrictions and negativity. In fact, according to Coindesk, the amount of money raised in ICOs in the first quarter alone exceeded the total amount last year.

Most ICOs and blockchain projects didn’t end up well for a lot of investors (more than 90% failed to deliver). However, there are a few examples like Binance and EOS which turned out as good investments. Binance became one of the leading cryptocurrency exchanges with a BNB market cap of over $1 billion – the second most valuable token on Coinmarketcap. EOS, on the other hand had a successful, albeit controversial mainnet launch, and is now a full-fledged decentralized application platform second only to Ethereum.

Smart investors consider the current state of affairs as a golden opportunity to hunt for new projects with the greatest potential, particularly in their early stages when they are mostly undervalued. Investing early on has the advantage of maximum gains with the least amount of exposure. For instance, a hundred dollars’ worth of investments at ten cents per token won’t break the bank if things go south. But if it turns out to be a real investment, gains will be exponential (e.g., BNB and EOS tokens are worth a hundred times more than their initial price in 2017)

 

 

Blockchain Projects to Watch for in 2018

Finding a good investment can be a real challenge since we’re dealing with dozens of new blockchain projects and ICOs every month. If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to land on some big winners from a list of projects. But before anything else, please bear in mind that this is not investment advice, and you are solely responsible for any gains or losses. That said, here are five of the most talked-about blockchain projects in 2018.

 

Zilliqa (ZIL). Launched in January, the project puts a lot of work in building a highly scalable decentralized platform using a method known as “sharding.” Unlike in Bitcoin, each node will be working in parallel within a group of nodes called “shard,” verifying a subset of all the transactions occurring at the same time (also called parallel processing). Sharding works perfectly in many centralized systems (Ultima Online, Google, etc.). However, it presents an immense technical challenge when applied on a decentralized environment. Ethereum has been working hard on it as part of its on-chain scaling solution in hopes of solving the security/scalability/decentralization trilemma. Zilliqa’s entry into the whole sharding scene threatens to steal the thunder from Ethereum by becoming the first to come up with a workable solution. Some estimates it to be around January 2019. Key features include:

  • faster transaction throughputs (speed improves as the network grows)
  • employs practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance as a consensus mechanism
  • reduced energy consumption (mining is spaced a hundred blocks apart)
  • maintains a decentralized network structure (a new shard is created for every 600 nodes)

Basic Attention Token (BAT). Cutting the middleman goes beyond peer-to-peer transactions to include decentralized, blockchain-based digital advertising in the form of an open-source, ad-free browser with its own currency. Brave Browser is one of today’s hottest Internet browsing software because it allows users to block ads and trackers completely free. In fact, as many as 3 million people have already been using Brave, becoming one of Google Play’s top ten in the Android browser category. The project is moving towards the creation a decentralized advertising platform using its own currency – Basic Attention Token – to incentivize both content creation and user attention. It works in some ways like Google Ads but in a more transparent and decentralized manner. The key advantages of BAT from an investor’s point of view include:

  • good potential for adoption (sold out BAT worth $35 million in 30 seconds)
  • strong support from the community (Brave browsing experience receive a lot of positive feedback from users)
  • a solid team of experienced developers (founded by no less than the co-founder of Mozilla, Firefox, and creator of JavaScript)

Kin (KIN). Canadian messaging app company Kik Interactive is making headway into cryptocurrency adoption with the launching of Kinecosystem. The company hopes to build a community of users and developers sharing resources, and making digital goods and services. However, unlike most blockchain startups with no real users, Kin’s integration into the Kik Messenger meant its value could potentially rise with over 300 million active users.  The company is now moving towards the next phase, inviting all developers and content creators in building the ecosystem for large KIN payouts. Gains will take time, but you might want to consider its advantages, namely:

  • KIN’s practical use-case as a digital currency on an existing application (Kik has been in use since 2010)
  • user base is mostly made up of digital-natives (teens, millennials, and active mobile users)
  • Kik’s emphasis on anonymity

DeepBrain Chain (DBC). Blockchain companies like DeepBrain Chain sees decentralization as the future of the AI industry. Development of AI applications use up a huge amount of computing power. DeepBrain Chain works by utilizing computational resources across millions of nodes on the neural network in building AI applications which are then published onto the blockchain. Nodes that successfully deploy mirror images will receive payouts in DBC. It plans on migrating out of NEO to its own mainnet in Q4, with its own consensus algorithm (proof of importance and delegated proof of stake). The goal is to become the deep learning machine for the AI industry. Successful adoption is achievable through:

  • growth in people’s interest in the AI industry
  • reduced computational cost of AI companies through resource-sharing
  • secure, decentralized method of storing AI information.

Wormhole. Bitcoin Cash might soon be able to run smart contracts through its proposed protocol layer known as Wormhole. Developers plan on forking the Omni Layer to create a platform for smart contracts on top of Bitcoin Cash. Much of it is still in the works as of this moment, but news is, they’re going to issue a token named “Wormhole Cash.” Investors and crypto-enthusiasts are keeping track of its progress since it is expected to have a very high demand upon release.

 

Conclusion

The cryptocurrency space has been constantly evolving even as the noise and the hype surrounding cryptocurrency have mostly faded. Cryptocurrency is here to stay, and we’ll be seeing more projects in the near future that will bridge the gap between the average user and blockchain technology.

What’s Next? Pushing the Boundaries of Blockchain Technology

Cryptocurrency could be running on a “different” blockchain, far better than its predecessors. Ethereum, became the first to have a “programmable” blockchain which made the currency in a class of its own. Today, we are entering into a new era of blockchain technology which promises scalability, interoperability, and sustainability with a first-of-its-kind third generation decentralized currency, Cardano.

We’ll explore the possibilities as well as the challenges in this new development in blockchain technology – what can it do to solve the prevailing issue of scalability and how far can it push the boundaries.

 

Blockchain Scaling and Its Challenges

Blockchain redefined the meaning of currency as a “trust-less” and “decentralized” medium of exchange allowing people to exchange value on a peer-to-peer network without a third party. It also solved the problem of double spending and fraud when dealing with digital assets in a virtual space with the combined strength of cryptographic functions and distributed consensus. But having such a high level of security also comes at the expense of speed and computing power.

Blockchain is difficult to scale because the exponential growth of the ever-increasing size, the necessary bandwidth to update all the ledgers across the network, and the proof of work algorithm which is self-limiting in terms of the number of transactions it can accommodate at a given time.

Some of the proposed solutions are, to take mining out of the picture, and use an alternative method of confirmation such as proof of stake and consensus protocol. Unfortunately, any attempt to improve scalability which takes mining and proof of work out of the way also tends to become convoluted and unsecure. There seems there is no way to create a blockchain that is both scalable, secure, and decentralized without losing some of its properties, one way or the other, or, writing a blockchain protocol from the ground up using an entirely different programming language.

Tinkering with the block size could only worsen the situation as bigger blocks would increase the blockchain size exponentially, thus consuming more bandwith and slowing down the network even more. The Bitcoin Cash hard fork of August 2017 attempts to solve Bitcoin’s scalability problem by following this route. However, it is doubtful that such measure could sustain the impact of mass adoption.

Some developers are now taking a different approach in their efforts to make a scalable, interoperable (communicates with other blockchains), and sustainable blockchain.

 

Making Blockchain a Lot “Smarter”

The simplicity of Bitcoin’s algorithm proved to be its greatest strength in terms of security. It is less prone to have errors and is more secure compared to other complex systems. Consequently, this would also mean less room for innovation within the blockchain itself (scripting used in Bitcoin is not “Turing-complete”). Moreover, developers couldn’t make drastic changes to the code without causing a fork in the blockchain. In such a case, the best scalability solution is to have a second layer for micro-transactions which “clears” each time these bundled transactions are broadcasted as one to the first layer, i.e. the blockchain. This is the idea behind Lightning Network.

However, to make this work, it should remain “trust-less,” secure, and shouldn’t involve a third party by adding a set of rules on top of the Bitcoin network to ensure that every transaction between two parties is settled upon meeting the conditions, or they can be rolled back if one of them refused to cooperate. Some of these rules include opening and pre-funding off-chain payment channels (or side-chains), “time-locks,” and having a “refund addresses” in case it fails to execute the agreement.

Ethereum accomplished the task with the idea of a “smart contract” between two or more people. After mining, the contract comes into force and becomes an immutable part of the blockchain. It uses a proprietary programming language (Solidity) which is more flexible than the script used by Bitcoin, and is primarily used for ICOs to fund projects and issue tokens to contributors. Some developers can make some interesting use of smart contracts such as the popular online blockchain game, Cryptokitties, where people can buy, sell, or breed virtual kittens on the Ethereum blockchain for profit.

Ethereum is regarded by developers as the second generation of blockchain technology for making such remarkable achievement. Blockchain technology is no longer just a method of making secure payments and storing value like Bitcoin, but also a more secure way of creating immutable, automated contracts without requiring a mediator in a physical sense. This opens up a world of possibilities for blockchain as a versatile platform for business and everyday use.

 

 

The Third Generation of Blockchain Technology

Cardano is considered by some as the third generation of blockchain technology for several reasons. First of all, it has a blockchain built with scalability in mind and uses a programming language known only to a few developers (Haskell and Plutus). Unlike the programming languages used in second generation blockchain which goes through a number loops and procedures one string at a time, it deals with the process of creating smart contracts and verification using a functional language which is more efficient. In other words, instead of commands, it uses mathematical formulas, i.e. functions.

An Ethereum smart contract, for instance, can go through a hundred iterations and procedures before coming up with a single output. This results in higher computational cost and could easily overload the network without some sort of regulatory mechanism that limits the number of loops or strings on a given contract. Ethereum came up with the idea of “gas”, which is the equivalent of mining fees for Bitcoin. This way, users cannot arbitrarily overload the network with excessive number of iterations. However, like Bitcoin, it also brings up the issue of scalability, computational cost, and sustainability

Cardano seeks to address this problem by revising the way blockchains should work. However, nothing is set in stone as of the moment and we couldn’t know for certain whether such proposal will have enough support from developers and the cryptocurrency community. Haskell and Plutus programming language is not so popular but can be extremely useful when applied to blockchains because it offers more flexibility.

There’s also a learning curve, should developers choose to support Cardano’s vision of a scalable blockchain, and it would have to compete with the developers’ attention who are fully engrossed in perfecting Lightning Network for Bitcoin, and the proof of stake scalability solution for Ethereum. One possible scenario is that all three of them will come to fruition about the same time, and by then we would have three or more fully scalable currencies which use different methods in achieving the same goal. Or, we may come up with just one solution that would annihilate other currencies and become the gold standard of future blockchain-based currencies. Could it be Cardano, Ethereum’s updated proof of stake version, or Bitcoin running on Lightning Network? The world watches as the story continues to unfold.

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