Ethereum and Bitcoin, ever heard of them?
A new cryptocurrency created in 2015, it’s been dubbed Bitcoin’s experimental younger brother.
Like Bitcoin, Ethereum is a decentralized cryptocurrency. Unlike Bitcoin, it runs smart contracts which use code to execute autonomously. The smart contracts can interact with other contracts, make decisions, store data and send the currency to others. For instance, a parent’s contract can automatically transfer money to their child every Christmas. Contracts are specified by their creators, but the execution is done on the Ethereum network. The contracts will only be eliminated if self destruction was part of their programming.
Ethereum hasn’t reached Bitcoin’s scale but it has increased in value to almost a $1 billion market cap. It is currently the second most popular cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin. One unit of this currency is known as an Ether. An Ether is currently worth $10.52 following a hack on its system in June. Prior to the hack<, the price was reaching highs of almost $20.
When people talk about Ethereum, they usually also refer to the DAO, a Decentralized Autonomous Organisation](https://www.ethereum.org/dao). Its goal is to code the decision making tools and rules in an organisation. This results in decentralized structures as the need for documents and governing persons is eliminated. The Dao can be thought of as a crowd sourced venture capitalist company. People add funds to the Dao through buying tokens that symbolize ownership. The funding was reportedly the biggest crowd funding campaign ever. After funding, people submit proposals to the Dao regarding fund allocation and members vote to approve the proposals. This is different to equity stake- the contributions give voting rights, not ownership. Nobody owns the Dao as it is software running on the Ethereum network.
Some claim Bitcoin and Ethereum are direct competitors. Others perceive the two cryptocurrencies as complementary features of the innovative blockchain economy. Bitcoin’s niche is its role in virtual gold, providing a reliable monetary system unaffected by uncontrolled inflation and political interference. Ethereum’s niche involves evolving into a universal computer having a blockchain-based coding language allowing codified contracts and decentralized applications.
However, neither cryptocurrency actually has their operations so clearly specified. They have similarities and minimal barriers to user migration. For instance, the smart contract platform Rootstock.io is a threat to Ethereum. That platform does everything Ethereum does with the added bonus of extra security on the already more secure Bitcoin network. But given its growth, Ethereum is starting to catch up as an investment tool. Their competition will result in better cryptocurrencies.
Total annual Ethereum issuance is restricted to 18 million per year. This reflects it being an inflationary currency, with an inflation rate of approximately 20% of current supply. The future value will decrease as the currency is sent to the miner rather than the program. Total Bitcoin supply has a limit of 21 million coins. The amount issued is halved every four years. The most recent halving in July sees Bitcoin’s inflation rate decreasing to a rate of 5% per year. Continuation of this will produce a deflationary currency, encouraging savings and profiting those who bought in cheaply.
So what type of people prefer Ethereum to Bitcoin? Ethereum users are less politically and economically conscious. They are happy with ultimate authority in the inventor Vitalik Buterin. They are more focused on how industries can take advantage of Ethereum. Bitcoin users emphasise decentralisation. They are more supportive of individual sovereignty. Metcalfe’s law expresses the network effect, where a network’s value depends on its number of users. People are more likely to join already popular networks, so Bitcoin has the first mover advantage.
Both cryptocurrencies have a Proof of Work blockchain. Ethereum mining is at 25 transactions per second and performed on graphics cards. Bitcoin mining is at 3 transactions per second and performed on ASIC devices. Whilst Ethereum is more scalable, its proposed transition to Proof of Stake will move away from decentralization.
Ethereum can be summarized as an innovation taking advantage of blockchain technology, supportive of Bitcoin though does have the same structure. Its rising popularity makes it a competitive cryptocurrency, and its volatility makes it a great trading tool. Both Bitcoin and Ethereum must overcome challenges to establish themselves, though the industry’s intellectual minds will no doubt see to that.
The contributor for this article is Mary Lin. She is currently studying Finance & Big Data at The University of Sydney and interning at Coinhako via QLC.io. She is a fintech enthusiast interested in tech solutions for social issues.