In the previous post, we looked into seven projects which are attempting to dethrone Ethereum. We introduced each of the seven and briefly discussed their tech and how they aim to steal the crown from Ethereum. Clearly, some projects have made major inroads when it comes to factors like transaction speed, costs. We now take this analysis a step further.
Here, we will delve deeper into these seven projects, evaluating factors including ease of usability and developer interest, level of decentralization, governance framework, security setup, features and more. Which of these projects has it in them to dethrone Ethereum the Goliath, and emerge as the David in this story?
Level of decentralization
One measure of estimating the level of decentralization on a blockchain is the number of validators. The chart below puts into perspective the number of validators across each of the seven challengers outlined.
Among the projects selected, Cardano with 2076 validators, Solana with 1065 and Avalanche with 1057 validators clearly lead the rest in terms of number of validators. The higher the number of validators, the greater the level of decentralization on a network.
Taking this a step further, it helps to look at what is known as the Nakamoto coefficient. First proposed by Balaji Srinivasan, the Nakamoto coefficient is a quantitative measure of a system’s decentralization. It helps determine how many entities one would need to be compromised to control a system. The higher the value of this minimum Nakamoto coefficient, the more decentralized the system is. Among the three listed above, Cardano has a Nakamoto coefficient of 24 (Source: ADApools.org), Solana has a Nakamoto coefficient of 19 (Source: Solana Beach), while Avalanche has a Nakamoto coefficient of 26 (Source: Industry Reports).
Another measure of decentralization is the level of staked tokens. This is basically the percentage of eligible tokens that are being staked. As seen below, Solana (77.93%), Binance (76.54%), Tezos (75.53%), and Cardano (70.86%) have over 70% of eligible tokens staked.
A recent report by Outlier Ventures brought out some interesting statistics (period under consideration: July 20 – June 21) on developer interest in some of these blockchains. Here are some highlights,
- Cardano ranks the highest in terms of average GitHub commits per month (CPM). It registered an average of 701 CPM. Ethereum ranks second highest, with an average of 447 CPM. Solana, Avalanche and Polkadot registered CPM’s of 247, 237 and 221 respectively.
- Avalanche is a clear winner when it comes to an overall increase in the commits on its blockchain. AVAX recorded a growth of 709.7% of total commits in the recent 12-month period compared to the last one, going from 1,553 commits per year (CPY) to 12,575 CPY.
- Ethereum demonstrated a high number of monthly active developers averaging 168 per month. Cardano had 165 active developers per month. Polkadot averaged 68 active developers per month.
Extending this, which of these platforms is stealing the show when it comes to the trendy sectors within blockchain? Think, DeFi, NFT, Gaming.
According to data aggregator DeFi Llama, over $256 billion has been locked into DeFi protocols. Of this, nearly 67.5% involves DeFi projects built on Ethereum. However, what’s interesting to note is that Ethereum’s dominance has decreased from 97.6% at the beginning of the year. From the projects included in this comparison, networks including Binance, Solana and Avalanche have been eating into Ethereum’s market share. For a perspective, Solana’s popularity has grown tremendously over the past few months among DeFi projects. The total value locked (TVL) of all DeFi projects built on Solana is currently at $14.9 billion (5.8% of the overall share), as against 592 million (0.50%) as of 30th June 2021. Avalanche, on its part too, has been making inroads in Ethereum’s and Binance’s dominance, with a near 47X growth in TVL since the mid of the year.
When it comes to NFTs, Ethereum dominates the space with most collections, marketplaces, and dApps (Source: DappRadar). However, with well-known downsides in terms of limited scalability (we touched upon TPS in the previous part of this article) and exorbitant transaction fees, other blockchains have been making their mark in this space. Binance Smart Chain, for one, offers significantly lower fees and faster transactions. However, BSC has found limited appeal within the NFT space. Solana, though, has been making rapid inroads in this space. Its ecosystem boasts 193 NFT projects.
On Gaming, Ethereum-based Axie Infinity dominates the space (30 days trading volume is $2.3 billion with over 661K users). However, BSC’s focus on gaming has been evident. As per DappRadar, 15 of the top 20 blockchain games by volume are BSC based.
Programming languages supported
Solidity is the programming language popular amongst Ethereum developers. It is designed for developing smart contracts that run on the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM). Here’s a look at the programming languages supported across each of the blockchain outlined:
As against off-chain governance methods (both Bitcoin and Ethereum utilize off-chain governance processes), on-chain governance widens the participants in a blockchain governance process. This aids in limiting the threat of chain splits and forks. Of course, both mechanisms have their pros and cons, and are expected to continue evolving over time. Here’s a quick take on the governance framework of the blockchains discussed,
- Operates an off-chain governance model
- Input Output Hong Kong (IOHK) and the Cardano Foundation develop and implement protocol updates
- The off-chain governance model will continue until the network reaches the Voltaire era
- Participants, then, will be able to use their stake and voting rights to influence the future development of the network
Binance Smart Chain
- Binance provides on-chain governance through the Proof of Staked Authority (PoSA) consensus
- BSC has system parameters to dictate network behavior, including slashing amounts, cross‐chain transfer fees, etc. These parameters are defined by the BSC validator set using a proposal‐vote process on Binance Chain
- Anyone can submit a proposal on Binance Chain to update BSC parameters
- The Solana Foundation, a non-profit organization, owns Solana’s IP, and alongside Solana Labs, aids in establishing the development direction
- Solana Labs will remain a core contributor to the protocol
- There have been no plans indicated for on-chain governance. It has a delegated proof-of-stake (DPoS) system that allows token holders to select the validator set. However, there is no roadmap for a token-weighted voting system
- Parity Technologies built the Polkadot protocol and Substrate framework, controlling much of the process initially
- In July 2020, control over the protocol was transferred to the network’s proposed on-chain governance system
- Network participants are now the primary source of upgrade submissions and approvals
- Avalanche provides on-chain governance for critical parameters of the network, letting participants vote on changes to the network and network upgrades
- However, Avalanche does not allow unlimited changes to arbitrary aspects of the system. Instead, only a pre-determined number of parameters can be modified via governance
- Tezos employs an on-chain governance system
- The governance mechanism enables bakers (validators) to vote on upgrade proposals
- A proposal can only be accepted if it has a super-majority (over 80%))
- The Tezos Foundation runs eight bakers capable of casting nearly 30% of the voting power (Source: Messari)
- Open to contributions from the community, anyone can submit or comment on a NEAR improvement proposal.
- Governance discussions take place within the NEAR forum
- The timing of the proposal’s implementation will depend on the change’s urgency
The switch to ETH 2.0 has raised concerns in areas including a network split, a security breach due to a possible vulnerability in the code. On its part, ETH 2.0 has been devised with a focus on security, making potential attacks extremely costly. ETH 2.0 requires a minimum of 16,384 validators. Security audits of ETH 2.0 code are being carried out by organizations including Least Authority and Quantstamp. The Ethereum Foundation is also setting up a security team to research possible cybersecurity problems.
While most of the blockchains listed here are less susceptible to breaches such as a 51% Attack, given the wider adoption of the Proof of Stake model as against Proof of Work, there remains a focus on improving safety and security across all networks. Here’s a look at some of the unique security measures implemented within a few of the blockchains considered here,
Polkadot: Polkadot, by way of the Relay Chain, has built a system where different blockchains are incentivized to pool their resources and secure the system as a whole. This makes it more difficult for an attacker to gain control over the consensus process.
Binance Smart Chain: A number of “rug pulls” and exploits on BSC has often raised questions around the chain’s security. BSC’s security algorithm, known as Proof-Of-Staked-Authority (PoSA), is controlled by 21 node operators. The BSC Security Alliance recently released a whitepaper around security highlighting concerns around potential vulnerabilities and outlining measures to go beyond security audits, bounty programs, and dApps monitoring.
Here’s a quick look at the communities across two popular crypto social media channels, Twitter and Telegram, across each of these projects,
Ethereum’s network effects as a technology remain unmatched. Besides, it enjoys a far superior degree of trust, security, and dependability given its lineage. Ethereum’s success going forward is heavily dependent on Layer 2 solutions. With the potential to move the majority of transactions off the chain, these Layer 2 solutions could hold the key to some of the Ethereum network’s current woes, transaction processing speeds and gas fees. While some of these Layer 2 solutions, example Matic (Polygon), have successfully proven their effectiveness, a large number of the Layer 2 solutions are in development or testing stages. Here’s where the rest of the blockchains stand an opportunity.
Clearly, the dominance of Ethereum has begun to shrink, as reflects in the TVL. From a dominance of over 97% in TVL (31st Dec 2020), Ethereum today holds roughly 67% of the TVL.
As seen in the previous part of this series, blockchains including Solana and Binance Smart Chain have gone way past Ethereum when it comes to TPS and cost per transaction.
Cardano, with an average of 702 commits per month (12-month period till June 2021) surged past Ethereum with an average of 447 CPM. The segment of DeFi which has been in focus through the year has seen projects including Solana and Avalanche make inroads over the past few months into Ethereum’s and Binance’s dominance.
Over the last year, Layer 1 platforms have emerged threatening to dethrone Ethereum. It’s clear though that competition is cut-throat and newer Layer 1 platforms have to focus on retaining users. The lure of return on capital is extremely strong in the crypto market and blockchains will have to present niche use cases, nimble-footedness to keep up with the emerging trends in the space.