Andreas Brekken, a former software engineer at Kraken, has been testing the Lightning Network (LN) for a few weeks, concluding:
“Sending payments using the Lightning Network is cheaper than the regular Bitcoin network, but suffers from routing errors and wallet bugs that make it impractical even for highly technical users.”
After setting up a beefed up LN hub that is processing some 50% of all LN transactions, Brekken goes shopping.
His first attempt to buy something through LN fails. He tries to diagnose, but without much success. His second attempt to buy something different succeeds after some trying. “There are plenty of routes available, at least ten,” he says in his review.
His third purchase of something else with a different vendor partially goes through. “In lncli there are several error messages,” he says, with his attempt to diagnose it unsuccessful.
A fourth purchase goes through without a problem, but when he goes to a fifth vendor, the Blockstream Store, Brekken seemingly found it impossible to make a purchase through LN.
He tries different wallets and different methods, but after numerous failed attempts he gives up, leading to his conclusion that LN is impractical “even for highly technical users.”
LN is a fairly new protocol launched only four months ago, but routing, as in finding a way for A to connect with B and thus make a payment, has been suggested as a difficult problem to solve long ago.
Peter Todd, a bitcoin developer, has stated that the design would be better as a hub and spoke system where everyone connects to a hub, then hubs connect to each other.
That, however, would be considerably centralized, but hubs are seemingly developing, with Brekken himself responsible for some 50% of LN volume.
That volume is very low currently compared to actual bitcoin which moved some $8 billion worth in one day. LN, by contrast, has a total capacity of only around 100 bitcoins.
Part of the reason for the low uptake may be because LN is sort of a niche protocol for specific use cases rather than general.
That’s because it is an invoice system, with individuals needing to generate a new invoice for a specific amount every time they wish to receive a payment. While in bitcoin you can just post your public address and receive many payments at any amount.
It can work well, however, in cases where you often transact with another party, so once the routing problems are fixed and all the bugs within LN itself or LN vendors are addressed, it might see more use.