Andreas Brekken, the operator of shitcoin.com, decided to review the Bitcoin Lightning Network by creating the largest node on the network. The Bitcoin Lightning Network is supposed to be a scaling solution for Bitcoin since it facilitates instant payments with very low fees. Andreas Brekken wanted to find out first hand how practical it is to use the Lightning Network instead of using the Bitcoin blockchain.
First Andreas Brekken, set up a Lightning Network node, which required setting up a full Bitcoin Core node. This process is very complex and quite difficult for inexperienced users. There is software available to make it easier to use the Lightning Network, but since the Lightning Network is still somewhat in a beta even relatively easier software requires technical knowledge. Setting up the Lightning Network node required further effort that was just as complex.
The Lightning Network had a capacity of 20 Bitcoins (USD 130,000), when Andreas Brekken started his experiment. He then deposited a large amount of Bitcoin and became the largest Lightning Network node. Soon his node exceeded 40 Bitcoin capacity with 250 active channels. There were some centralization fears from his experiment, but he ran the node responsibly and there were no problems. Running the node required lots of work and constant checking, and there were some errors which took him many hours to figure out.
Lightning Network nodes get paid for their services; Andreas Brekken did the math and found he got USD 0.001 for each transaction. This illustrates how Lightning Network has very low fees compared to Bitcoin, which often has fees of USD 1 or more during high traffic times. However, it also illustrates how there is little incentive to run a Lightning Network node. During his entire experiment, Andreas Brekken profited less than 1 USD from transaction fees despite being the biggest node and having over USD 100,000 locked up in his Lightning Network node.
While Andreas Brekken was running his node he experimented with buying things using the Lightning Network. Practically everything he tried to buy resulted in errors along the way. He tried to buy a hoodie with the Lightning Network, and despite having the biggest node there was apparently no way to route to the store selling the hoodie. He tried a different Lightning Network wallet and that didn’t work, and he gave up. Bitcoin works 100% of the time when connected to the internet and paying a proper transaction fee, while Lightning Network seems to fail most of the time even for someone with good technical knowledge.
Andreas Brekken had enough of the experiment since there were more costs to run the node then profits from maintaining the network, and he shut his node down. This indicates that the Lightning Network could have a hard time gaining widespread adoption since there’s no incentive for big players to run a node. Shutting down the node was somewhat difficult, since there were hundreds of channels connected to his node which he had to individually shut down. Some of these channels had people who were offline, so he couldn’t shut them down quickly. If one side of a channel is offline and the node closes down, then the node has to wait a period of time before they get their Bitcoins back as a safety measure. This waiting time can be up to 2 weeks, meaning the node operator won’t get their money back for 2 weeks. For someone like Andreas Brekken who has a large sum of money this might not be a big deal, but for a normal person, it could really cause them trouble.
Overall, Andreas Brekken’s experiment seems to have illustrated how Bitcoin’s Lightning Network is in beta and needs plenty of improvement before it can be implemented as a scalability solution. There is a team of developers working with the Lightning Network though, and eventually, it should be a real scalability solution. Things are not that urgent now anyways regarding Bitcoin scalability since SegWit has increased block size and is acting as a temporary Bitcoin scalability solution. Hopefully, by the time Bitcoin scalability becomes a serious problem again the Lightning Network will be ready.
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