The State of the Ethereum Network – July 2019
Five years ago today — on July 22, 2014 — the Ethereum crowdsale went live, kickstarting years of developer, startup, entrepreneur, and enterprise fervor. Five years later, the blockchain ecosystem is diverse, global, increasingly decentralized, and growing in importance, recognition, and prominence.
For the most part, the blockchain ecosystem ended last year licking its wounds after a spectacular fall from all-time 2018 crypto highs. The conversation around the much-discussed bear market has slowly given way to the acknowledgment that, despite still-volatile market prices, the friction of industry-wide activity has thawed crypto-winter, revealing a strong, stable, and growing ecosystem. For Ethereum in particular, 2019 has been a whirlwind of activity, interest, and improvement.
Since its inception, the Ethereum mainnet has processed over 500 million transactions — surpassing the 500 million mark on July 17th. In 2019 alone, over 130 million transactions have been processed, and network utilization remains fairly stable at an average of just under 90%. Over 70 million unique addresses exist on Ethereum, 16 million of which (16%) have been created since the beginning of the year.
On June 1st, there were 616,000 active addresses transacting on the network — the busiest in 2019. With a total ether supply of 106 million, that is an average of 2.28 ETH per address. Excluding the top 500 addresses by ETH ownership (which account for 37% of the total supply), the average ETH holding per address is 1.43 ETH.In February, the Ethereum network underwent the Constantinople upgrade, a planned hard fork to improve the network and bring it closer towards the multi-phase Serenity update that will include (amongst other things) the switch to proof of stake. The Constantinople update included a total of 5 Ethereum Improvement Proposals. Notably, EIP 1234 reduced the block reward from 3 ETH to 2 ETH, a development known as “The Thirdening.”
Enterprises have been at the forefront of blockchain adoption among traditional institutions. Through investments, innovation, PoCs, and partnerships, large companies have been helping push the envelope forward and cast a light on the opportunities of decentralized technologies. So far in 2019, we have seen a major theme of privacy among enterprise activity.
The announcement of Libra — rife with its own ideological, regulatory, and technical considerations — is filled with odes to user data privacy. ConsenSys-backed PegaSys’ release of Pantheon 1.1 in April introduced Trusted Compute and privacy component called Orion specifically to address enterprise concerns around privacy on Ethereum. In May, EY released a set of standards and protocols to improve private transaction execution on the Ethereum public blockchain. Released as open-source on Github, the project — named Nightfall — strives to allow any ERC-20 or ERC-721 transaction to be executed with “complete privacy.”
Consultancies and research firms have affirmed the rapid exploration of blockchain by enterprises. A June report from Gartner estimates blockchain will add $176 billion in value to businesses by 2025 and $3.1 trillion by 2030. Of that $3.1T, Gartner estimates just shy of $1T will come from inter- and intra-company improvements and opportunities.
Deloitte’s report at the end of 2018 summarized the interviews from 1,000 blockchain-minded enterprise executives about their plans for 2019 and beyond. 95% say their companies plan to invest in blockchain technology in 2019. Nearly 40% plan to invest over $5 million. 84% believe blockchain is eventually scalable and will achieve mainstream adoption, despite 39% view the technology as currently ‘overhyped.’ Automotive, oil & gas, and life sciences executives are most bullish on blockchain, followed closely by financial services.
Overall, the trend is that executives are moving forward cautiously but deliberately to explore the opportunities provided by decentralized technologies. An example of this is investment banking giant Goldman Sachs quietly posting a job listing to attract a Digital Asset Project Manager to their in-house incubator program.
Government Warms Up
In 2019, governments have moved from investing in exploratory blockchain programs to launching pilot projects of their own with aims to modernize current public sector operations. The Luxembourg government supports blockchain startups through programs such as Mind & Market, Horizon 2020, LHofT, Letzblock, and Luxinnovation. Germany funds blockchain projects through the German Blockchain Bundesverband, and the Swiss government funds blockchain projects through the Blockchain Federation.
At the moment, Europe is leading the charge with 29 out of 44 European countries signing as members to the European Blockchain Partnership and will cooperate in the establishment of a European Blockchain Services Infrastructure (ESBI). Several governments worldwide have blockchain-based initiatives underway to explore country-specific use cases: Georgia has a project underway utilizing blockchain to streamline land registry frameworks, the Chinese city of Changzhou partnered with Alibaba to examine the potential of securing healthcare data with blockchain, and the Australian government leverages blockchain capabilities to provide provenance around one of its critical export goods, sugar.
Dozens of local and central banks are actively pursuing blockchain-based projects to bring efficiency to several long-standing issues. UnionBank launched Project i2i to tackle exorbitant remittance fees, the Central Bank of Brazil is currently exploring a distributed ledger for an interbank payments contingency and resiliency system (Project SALT) as well as a decentralized information exchange platform (Project PIER). The Bank of Thailand, The South African Reserve Bank, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore created projects to investigate alternatives to today’s systems by leveraging central bank-issued digital currencies (CBDC). Learn more. At the end of 2018, The World Bank launched the first blockchain-based bond, “bond-i,” raising A$110 million, signifying the first time investors support its activities fully managed using blockchain technology.
The United States of America is making wide steps to define regulations and implement laws that will permit blockchain exploration. For example, Wyoming governor signed into law HB0070 in February of 2019 authorizing the Secretary of State to develop and implement a blockchain-based filing system for business entities and commercial filings. In March of 2019, South Dakota governor signed HB1196 to provide a definition of blockchain technology for certain purposes. Arkansas signed a bill (HB 1944) which states that contracts that contain smart contract terms relating to a transaction shouldn’t be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability.
Typically, the public sector is slow to innovate. Expect more governments to publicly acknowledge that they are exploring blockchain projects in the future.
VCs Are Doubling Down
Despite volatile crypto prices, VC money has not stopped flowing to the projects and dev teams building some of the more exciting decentralized applications. In April, Reuters reported that VCs had invested shy of $1 billion in blockchain startups [$850 million], setting the ecosystem on track to surpass 2018’s record of $2.4 billion in VC investment. In 2018, the record amount came from 117 deals, whereas April’s $850 million amount came from just 13 deals, revealing larger investments per deal and suggesting greater comfort among VCs with blockchain technology.
The report indicated that investment is not going into cryptocurrency or tokens directly, suggesting continued hesitation from VCs to actually dive into the trading market itself. We may continue to see such risky investment remain in the realm of individual traders and high-risk private funds in the near future. Instead, VC money is going to the projects and teams that are supporting the growth of the ecosystem. Namely, tokenization is mentioned by Reuters as a primary interest of VCs with respect to the potential of decentralized technologies.
Developer Community and Activity
Electric Capital released a Dev Report in March 2019 that traces where developers are building across the crypto ecosystem. To date, Ethereum has the highest number of developers working on core protocol, with Bitcoin and Cardano in second and third place.
Ethereum has 216 active developers per month working on total code in addition to core protocol development. Ethereum has a robust and consistent developer growth, with an average of 240 active developers in January 2019, up 23% from 190 in 2018.
Ethereum is a clear standout in total code projects, with 8x more commits than Bitcoin and 20x more commits than XRP.
The Truffle Suite provides a powerful suite of tools for developing dApps and smart contracts from the ideation stage to shipment. Truffle, a development environment and, testing framework just surpassed 2 million lifetime downloads since its inception in May 2015. Ganache, Truffle’s second product is a personal blockchain for Ethereum development used to deploy contracts, develop apps, and run tests has 1,227,844 downloads since its release in October 2017, with 79,546 downloaded in June 2019.
The Great Dapp War
From the earliest days of blockchain, the community has been in the race for the “killer dapp” that would explode into global utility and prove one protocol’s worthiness over another. For the most part, that mindset has subsided. Few protocols are prepared to scale globally — and neither, therefore, are its dapps. Rather, the dapp industry has evolved into a constellation of both early and more-established projects, all of which are drilling down on their use cases to address the greatest needs, execute the best UX, and maintain the most security. Broadly speaking, finance dapps (including exchanges, DeFi, and marketplaces) have emerged as the most significant focus of dapp developers in the past year.
Of the top 50 dapps as ranked by State of the Dapps (the ranking algorithm for which is based on a “multiple factors including active users, tx volume, dev activity, profile freshness and strength, CTRs, and user recommendations”), 29 of them are built on Ethereum. When we look at use case-specific dapps, Ethereum’s prominence is cast into focus:
- Of the top 50 finance dapps, 42 are built on Ethereum, including MakerDAO and OmiseGO.
- Of the top 50 exchange dapps, 44 are built on Ethereum, including Augur and Uniswap.
- Of the top 50 security dapps, 42 are built on Ethereum, including Quantstamp.
- Of the top 50 development dapps, 43 are built on Ethereum, including Kauri, Golem, and CryptoZombies.
Perhaps most enlightening, of the top 50 dapps with the most developer activity across all categories and all platforms, 44 of them (88%) are built on Ethereum; just one statistic demonstrating that Ethereum still has the most robust developer community.
The rest of 2019 is not likely to slow down for Ethereum. In recent weeks, the crypto market has broken out of stagnation and revitalized the interest of retail and institutional investors alike. For the protocol itself, 2019 holds in store the Istanbul hard fork, projected in October 2019. The Istanbul hard fork includes 11 proposed improvements to the Ethereum blockchain and is the last hard fork before the projected release of Serenity Phase 0. Scheduled for early 2020, Serenity will no doubt be the talk of the Ethereum and blockchain community in the second half of 2019, as the core developers and wider ecosystem alike turn an eye towards the implementation of Proof of Stake and the promise of scalability.