Bitcoin vs. Bitcoin Cash: An Overview

Since its inception, there have been questions surrounding bitcoin’s ability to scale effectively. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that exists within a network of computers, within the blockchain. This is revolutionary ledger-recording technology. It makes ledgers far more difficult to manipulate for a couple of reasons: The reality of what has transpired is verified by majority rule, not by an individual actor. Additionally, this network is decentralized; it exists on computers all over the world.

The problem with this technology is that it’s slow, especially in comparison to banks that deal with credit card transactions. Visa processes 150 million transactions per day, averaging roughly 1,700 transactions per second. The company's capability actually far surpasses that, at 24,000 transactions per second.

How many transactions can the bitcoin network process per second? Seven. Transactions take about 10 minutes to process. As the network of bitcoin users grows, waiting times will become longer since there are more transactions to process without a change in the underlying technology that processes them.

Ongoing debates around bitcoin’s technology have been concerned with this central problem of scaling and increasing the speed of the transaction verification process. There are two major solutions to this problem: either making the amount of data that need to be verified in each block smaller, thus creating transactions that are faster and cheaper, or making the blocks of data bigger, so that more information can be processed at one time. 

Bitcoin

In July 2017, mining pools and companies representing roughly 80 percent to 90 percent of bitcoin computing power voted to incorporate a technology known as a segregated witness, called SegWit2x. SegWit2x makes the amount of data that needs to be verified in each block smaller by removing signature data from the block of data that needs to be processed in each transaction and having it attached in an extended block. Signature data has been estimated to account for up to 65 percent of data processed in each block, so this is not an insignificant technological shift. Talk of doubling the size of blocks from 1mb to 2mb ramped up in 2017 and 2018, and, as of February 2019, the average block size of bitcoin increased to 1.305mb, surpassing previous records. The larger block size helps in terms of improving bitcoin’s scalability. In September 2017, research released by cryptocurrency exchange BitMex showed that SegWit implementation had helped increase the block size, amid a steady adoption rate for the technology.

In late 2017, scientists from Bitcoin Unlimited revealed they had mined the world's first 1GB block, 1,000 times bigger than the normal size.

Bitcoin Cash

Bitcoin cash is a different story. Bitcoin cash was started by bitcoin miners and developers equally concerned with the future of the cryptocurrency and its ability to scale effectively. However, these individuals had their reservations about the adoption of a segregated witness technology. They felt as though SegWit2x did not address the fundamental problem of scalability in a meaningful way, nor did it follow the roadmap initially outlined by Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous party that first proposed the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrency. Furthermore, the process of introducing SegWit2x as the road forward was anything but transparent, and there were concerns that its introduction undermined the decentralization and democratization of the currency.

In August 2017, some miners and developers initiated what is known as a hard fork, effectively creating a new currency: bitcoin cash. Bitcoin cash has implemented an increased block size of 8mb to accelerate the verification process, with an adjustable level of difficulty to ensure the chain’s survival and transaction verification speed, regardless of the number of miners supporting it. This has raised concerns about the security of bitcoin cash.

Special Considerations

This development could mean any number of things for the future of cryptocurrency. The situation is very fluid, and market valuations are both constantly calibrating and volatile. It will be difficult to have a clear picture until bitcoin cash has been functioning for a while (or fails), the impact of bitcoin's segregated witness technology is assessed, and the size of bitcoin's blocks reach 2mb.

Improving cryptocurrency as a transaction medium will depend on maintaining the high level of security that bitcoin has always ensured, while also improving transaction speeds.

Bitcoin will continue to be highly secure, but how much its transaction speeds will improve is unclear. Bitcoin cash could ultimately have transactions processing in two minutes and 30 seconds. The security of the bitcoin cash blockchain, though, is unclear.

It will also depend on miners’ and users’ vision for the currency. If bitcoin really does undermine the decentralized nature of the network, and the democratic possibilities of the blockchain technology, people may look elsewhere for a cryptocurrency with more exciting potential.

Key Takeaways

  • Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that exists within a network of computers, within the blockchain.
  • Bitcoin cash was started by bitcoin miners and developers concerned about the future of the bitcoin cryptocurrency, and its ability to scale effectively.