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Crypto Could Break Internet: Is the Bank for International Settlements Mistaken?

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Crypto Could Break Internet: Is the Bank for International Settlements Mistaken?

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The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has released a paper titled ‘Cryptocurrencies: looking beyond the hype’., in which it lists scaling concerns over widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies, including possibly bringing “the internet to a halt” due to the tremendous amount of data that would be transferred by millions of users downloading swollen blockchains.

Essentially, BIS concludes that blockchains might work well for relatively small transaction frequencies but if they become a primary means for payments globally, then blockchain sizes would quickly grow to terabytes, using up too much internet bandwidth. The paper believes that if cryptocurrency processed as many transactions as other retail payment systems like Visa and MasterCard, then the blockchain would be too big to store in a smartphone within days, too big for a personal computer within weeks, and too big for a server within months.

BIS foresees that only supercomputers would be able to download and process the entire blockchain, but even then users would be transferring so much data and using so much bandwidth that it could congest the internet.

It appears to be an exaggeration, considering that the entire Bitcoin blockchain is 170 GB, and this includes all of the transactions over the last nine years since Bitcoin launched in 2009. This is easily downloadable by a personal computer.

Even so, the paper does not seem to recognize, however, that users do not necessarily need to use full node clients that download the entire blockchains, with lightweight clients such as simplified payment verification (SPV) wallets sufficient to perform transactions. It also does not consider second-layer networks currently in development, such as Bitcoin’s Lightning Network that would take transactions off-chain, possibly surpassing Visa’s transactional speed and capacity, without the data bloat.

BIS brought up other downsides, saying cryptocurrency is slow and consumes lots of energy. Again, this is not necessarily true, and it appears that some data used by BIS is outdated, leaving out recent scaling developments in major cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Despite the mostly negative content of the report, BIS said the underlying blockchain-based distributed ledger technology showed promise for other applications like cross-border payments and faster settlement execution via smart contracts.


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