The ethereum network has become congested with users complaining transactions are taking hours or in some rare instances, even days.
“I’ve 3 pending transactions, pending for more than 10 hours, I’ve selected the “slow” mode on metamask, but 10 hours is really slow, right?” – says one etherean.
The culprit appears to be Tether. They’re now taking about 50% of the entire network capacity, with USDT handling $18 billion in unfiltered trading volumes, far more than eth’s $6 billion.
The ERC-20 token is used for arbitrage between global and local exchanges as well as to bypass national or international restrictions say on crypto trading, capital controls, and so on.
According to Etherscan data, Tether has performed 100,000 on-chain transactions in the past 7 hours.
Etherscan couldn’t go any further than the last 100,000 transactions. There are some 5.4 million in total, but we can’t see when they began.
The move of USDT from the bitcoin based Omni layer to eth gained momentum in July when Binance suddenly announced they will accept only the ERC20 USDT and not the Omni ones.
That was months ago, however, so what has suddenly changed to clog the network isn’t too clear, but calls are rising for the eth version of the blocksize, the gas limit, to be increased.
We can see the ethereum blocksize is about 20,000 bytes. As blocks are around every 15 seconds, that translates to 80kb a minute or 800kb every ten minutes, quite a bit less than bitcoin’s hard limit of 1MB.
Bitcoin has sort of increased its hard limit to 2MB, while in eth there is no hard limit at all, but a soft limit measured by an abstract unit called gas, or the number of calculations.
A token transaction can take a lot more gas than a simple transaction. Likewise the nature of a smart contract transaction may determine a lot more gas is required than for a simple transaction.
Thus currently ethereum is handling 700,000 transactions a day, but is congested. In January 2018, it was handling 1.4 million transactions a day before it got congested.
The current limit of 8 million gas has not changed since January 2018, but since tether is a token, it requires more gas, and thus less transactions can fit in.
That’s because gas does not necessarily correspond to the number of transactions, nor to bytes, but obviously does have some relationship.
Yet it is bytes that matter as that is the “real” world resource in as far as storage, bandwidth, and so on with gas being an abstract thing.
So arguably ethereum can at least double the capacity with plenty of potential efficiencies here in better aligning the gas measure to bytes so that the gas limit takes into account the actual real resource usage.
Some efficiencies have been carried out, bringing orphans (uncles) down 75% since January 2018.
More efficiencies kick in with Istanbul, which really is better named as the Gas Upgrade because most of what will be “turned-on” has to do with gas improvements.
Then there are the more complicated rent and storage eth1x efficiencies which look like will take some time to go live.
Until then miners can just increase the gas limit as this is vote based by block with 51% of them needing to “agree.”
It looks like Ethermine is holding off, with Spark Pool and Ethermine accounting for 25% each. Spark is voting up, the other one is voting down.
Nanopool does not seem to have an efficient composition, so they’re seeing higher uncle rates. Meaning they probably wouldn’t want to vote up. F2pool is voting up, but unless Ethermine does too, then it might be a bit difficult for the limit to increase.
Ethermine has made no public comment on the matter, but last year they said “low end systems already take up to a few seconds to validate and distribute a block.”
That should have changed as orphan rates have gone down, but it remains to be seen whether the gas limit will change too.