It's Possible to Increase Bitcoin's Block Size Without a Hard Fork: Blockstream Co-Founder

Mark Friedenbach, a bitcoin developer and co-founder of the popular Blockstream company, has recently revealed a scaling approach he called “forward blocks,” which could essentially help increase BTC’s block size without a hard fork.

Currently, bitcoin can accommodate a small number of transactions per second, and is unable to compete with traditional payment networks such as that of Visa. While some believe the cryptocurrency should scale through a block size increase – which would require a hard fork - others argue this approach will lead to centralization, and prefer other solutions.

A hard fork is essentially a change to the network that isn’t backwards-compatible, meaning all of the cryptocurrency’s users need to upgrade to keep up with the change. A soft fork, on the other hand, can be backwards-compatible.

Friedenbach’s approach, according to a transcript of his presentation at the Scaling Bitcoin workshop, would be able to boost the flagship cryptocurrency’s on-chain transaction capacity through a Proof-of-Work (PoW) alternation achieved through soft forks and “privacy-enhancing alternative ledgers (side chains).”

According to Friedenbach, a former space apps developer at NASA, the forward blocks approach could ultimately help increase the cryptocurrency’s “settlement transactions volume to 3584x current levels,” while improving censorship resistance via sharding.

Here, the developer refers to sharding as a change to the PoW system and a series of developments that would see bitcoin’s blockchain scale. Most cryptocurrency users refer to sharding when mentioning Ethereum’s scaling solution, which would see multiple network computers divide transaction workload between them to scale the blockchain. These two, per Friedenbach, are “largely not” the same.

Speaking to CoinDesk, the former NASA employee noted his approach could help with the scaling debate, as the community often opposes hard forks because of how hard it can be to do them safely. He was quoted as saying:

Forward blocks makes that whole argument pointless. We don't need a hard-fork to scale bitcoin, if and when we decide to do so. It can be accomplished as a soft fork, like SegWit was.

SegWit, as CryptoGlobe covered, was launched one year ago and recently saw its usage go over 50%. During his presentation, he further suggested it could be good to replace bitcoin’s current halving mechanism, which halves block rewards every four years. To him, a more linear approach could be more beneficial to the cryptocurrency, as it wouldn’t suddenly affect the ecosystem.

Notably, Friedenbach reportedly got to his forward blocks approach by starting out thinking about a “development of a dual PoW change where you introduce a new PoW with a soft fork.” While he noted this wasn’t a proposal, it’s a “good place” to start thinking about the solution.

 

A Controversial Solution

While some could look at the former NASA contractor’s approach as revolutionary, CoinDesk reports not everyone is excited about it. Pseudonymous bitcoin developer “Shinobimonkey” was quoted as saying it was a “network attack being called an upgrade.”

Blockstream’s CEO Adam Back noted that “it’s OK,” as discovering mechanisms “can be useful and separate from whether it would be practical technically and in terms of user consensus.” To him, it’s so far just another tool.

Per the news outlet, Friedenbach isn’t advocating to use forward blocks on bitcoin either, but is merely trying to put the option out there. He’s reportedly set to test it on “Freicoin,” an altcoin he created.

Tether Accounted for Over 80% of Bitcoin’s Trading Volume as its Premium Dropped

Tether’s USDT stablecoin has seemingly kept on dominating the cryptocurrency trading scene, as Bitcoin to USDT volumes have increased their market share from 70% in February to 81.7% of all BTC trading volume in March.

According to CryptoCompare’s March 2019 Exchange Review, Tether’ USDT has kept on dominating the stablecoin scene as well. This, as data shows 98.7% of Bitcoin’s trading volume against four top stablecoins – USDT, USDC, PAX, and TUSD – was represented by BTC/USDT trading pairs.

While BTC/USD trading pairs dominate the crypto-to-fiat trading volume, even these were dwarfed by BTC/USDT trading. While the monthly trading volume against the US dollar was of about 1 million BTC (around $5.2 billion) in March, against USDT the volume came close to 9 million BTC (nearly $47 billion at press time)

Bitcoin trading volume into fiat or stablecoinsSource: CryptoCompare Exchange Review

The stablecoin’s dominance even over fiat currency trading pairs may be related to a market share increase seen by pure crypto-to-crypto exchanges. These, according to CryptoCompare’s report, saw their volumes increase by 70% since February, to $267 billion. In contrast, exchanges offering fiat pairs saw their volume drop 8% to $58 billion in March.

It’s believed crypto-to-crypto exchanges are faster to see increased activity during market upswings, as cryptoasset capital inflows are faster and easier than fiat currency deposits on more regulated cryptocurrency exchanges.

While available data shows users could be showing increased confidence in Tether’s USDT, things may not be as clear. While several pieces of evidence have suggested the firm does have a dollar in reserve for every USDT in circulation, the company has quietly diluted its USD reserve claims in March.

CryptoCompare’s report shows that, interestingly, bitcoin to USDT trading has mostly grown on exchanges using the controversial Trans-Fee Mining (TFM) revenue model, which has been criticized as being a “disguised ICO.”

FCoin, one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges to adopt the TFM model, has seen its BTC/USDT trading volumes surges last month. CoinBene, as covered, has been the number one cryptocurrency exchange using the model, and seemingly led bitcoin to USDT volumes in March.

USDT trading volumes per cryptocurrency exchangeSource: CryptoCompare Exchange Review

Perhaps related to the increased volume on TFM exchanges is the increase in USDT premiums. Per the report earlier in March the premium got to 3%, meaning it cost an extra 3% to buy one bitcoin with USDT than with USD.

While the premium has since dropped to less than 0.5%, the rise may be traders factoring in the risk of trading in a stablecoin that has diluted its USD reserve claims, and on exchanges that incentivized larger trading volumes through a controversial revenue model.