Smart contract platforms have evolved at pace in 2020. Ethereum’s DeFi ecosystem is thriving, Tezos has settled its legal troubles, Binance Chain has seen several projects switch to or launch on its platform, and Tron has announced several new partnerships.
In the midst of 2020’s crypto bull run, the leading smart contract platforms continue to evolve
The Ethereum Foundation continues to upgrade the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain with an eye on the eventual Ethereum 2.0 upgrade.
This year Ethereum has dealt with a huge surge in transaction demand that has led to network congestion and a surge in network fees and wait times. Median and average transaction fees have hit all-time highs this year and demand for space on Ethereum blocks continues to rise. This has increased the pressure on developers to deliver on temporary layer 2 scaling solutions and put more focus on eventual transition from Proof-of-work (POW) to Proof-of-Stake (POS) consensus as part of a transition to ETH 2.0.
In 2019, Ethereum implemented two major updates, Constantinople and Istanbul. The Istanbul network enhancement was added to the Ethereum blockchain in December 2019. Following these significant upgrades, community members were surprised when two days before Xmas, the Ethereum Foundation announced another update for January 1, 2020.
Developers said that the Muir Glacier Upgrade is designed to delay the difficulty bomb embedded in the network’s software. Separate from the difficulty algorithm, the difficulty bomb is designed to incrementally alter the mining difficulty within specified times until its effect is large enough to be felt by miners. The Muir Glacier upgrade will delay the difficulty bomb, which can negatively affect the implementation of future upgrades on the path to Ethereum 2.0.
Ethereum 2.0’s final official public testnet, Medalla, was launched in early August. Unlike many other ETH 2.0 testnets that preceded it, Medalla is decentralized and uses network validators that are not centrally coordinated by developer teams. Data from testnet block explorer beaconcha.in the network currently has 50,515 active validators and 1.58 million testnet ETH tokens attached to it. Blocks continue to be pushed as planned and it continues to run stably following a mid-August hiccup.
A goal of Medalla is to see how a proof of stake Beacon chain can run in the hands of the Ethereum community with previous testnets focused primarily on developers. The beacon chain is a new blockchain at the core of Ethereum 2.0 that will ensure the network of shard chains, core to ETH 2.0’s scaling strategy, has the most up-to-date data.
Recent participation rates >75% indicate are well above the targeted 66% and stakers have earnt stable Proof-of-Stake (POS) based rewards for their participation, each staking at least 32 ETH. Medalla has built anticipation for Mainchain ETH staking rewards and an eventual base layer solution for the platform’s congestion and swelling transaction fees.
In 2020 Ethereum has continued to focus on achieving higher throughput, latency, and speed while prioritizing decentralization. Ethereum solidified its leadership in the DeFi market, a position that emerged in 2019. Decentralized exchange trading solutions are also enjoying a renaissance and hit all time high trading trading volumes in September of this year. Data suggests that 3 percent of all ETH in circulation is tied up in applications related to DeFi, such as Aave, Curve and Synthetix, which equates to a total value locked of over USD 8.5 billion.
Source: DeFi Pulse
2019 was a challenging year for Block.One’s EOS. Block.One finalized the world’s longest ICO in June 2018, and was seen by many as an ‘Ethereum Killer’. However, 2019 came with significant challenges for EOS, ranging from legal issues to polarizing internal disputes.
In 2019, Block.One reached a settlement with the SEC regarding accusations of holding an unregistered security sale. Additionally, EOS’s governance system was heavily criticized, with reports emerging that its Delegated Proof of Stake (DPOS) was ineffective and instead favored fraud and democratic inequality. For instance, in 2019, a block producer called games.eos, failed to apply a blacklist correctly, facilitating the withdrawal of 2.09 million EOS, or about US$7.25 million.
Perhaps as a result, in 2020 the Block.one group has taken a far more active role in EOS governance. Its stake of EOS tokens, ~10% of total supply, previously left unused will now be used to vote in block producers. The group suggests that it will vote for block producers on a rotational basis and recipients of the Block.one votes will “adhere to the standards” the group wishes to see deployed network wide.
Yup, is currently the largest Dapp on the EOS platform and the largest social Dapp across all social platforms according to Dappradar, with more users than well known social dapps like Hive and Steemit. It was developed by students at Columbia University and rewards users with the YupX native token for rating social content on the internet from sites like Twitter, Reddit and Youtube. Yup’s creators suggest they picked EOS because it allows Dapp publishers to manage transaction costs on their end, meaning users don’t need to deal with Ethereum gas fees or extensions like Metamask – opening the door for easier adoption.
2019 was a successful year for Tezos with regard to price activity and adoption. A number of leading digital asset platforms adopted the Tezos native cryptocurrency – XTZ – as a staking currency. Coinbase, Ledger, and Kraken all support XTZ staking. Following the announcements, the trading platforms witnessed an increase in new signups for their platforms.
In January this year the Tezos Foundation announced a round of 21 grants for new projects for the Tezos ecosystem that will utilize XTZ smart contracts.
In April, the Tezos Foundation made moves to settle the class-action law suit that had been weighing on the project for years. The settlement was finalized by a US court on August the 28th and US$25 million will be paid out to participants of the original 2017 Tezo ICO who had alleged that Tezos ICO was an unregistered security sale.
The platform has some of the lowest developer numbers in comparison to other smart contract ecosystems. This will likely be a key focus for the blockchain as more Dapps equals more real-life usage, which in turn, affects the price of its token and the future success of the platform. To date, however, over 80% of the Tezos circulating supply is staked – which indicates there is not much else that can be done with Tezos at this time – until Dapp projects like those funded by the Tezos Foundation grants find a user base.
In the second half of 2020, a mobile counterpart of the popular Galleon wallet was launched along with a number of updates to the desktop version. Conseil a multi-chain industrial-grade blockchain indexer that Tezos focused added support for the Bitcoin blockchain, increasing the cross-chain capabilities for the blockchain. In early July, crypto startup Bolt labs announced that they were working to bring the zkChannels protocol to the Tezos blockchain. zkChannels is a chain-agnostic anonymous off-chain protocol that enables cheap and private value transfer between blockchain customers and merchants. zkChannels is planned to be implemented on Tezos via an amendment proposal in the next year.
Binance Chain 2020
In February 2019, Binance announced plans for Binance Chain, a blockchain-based platform through which it would be possible to issue, use, and exchange digital assets in a decentralized manner. Through Binance Chain, the platform also launched Binance DEX, a decentralized exchange (DEX).
Its ecosystem has now been split and utilizes a dual architecture ecosystem, with the newly Binance smartchain complementing the existing Binance chain. The Binance smart chain allows users to build decentralized applications and digital assets that can easily take advantage of the DEX tooling built on the Binance chain. The Binance smartchain was launched on the 31st August and uses a Proof-of-Stake-Authority (PoSA) consensus model with network managed by 21 validators,
The Binance smart chain is designed to be compatible with Ethereum, and Binance’s CEO Changpeng Zhao has invited projects from the burgeoning Decentralized finance sector to migrate from Ethereum to BSC to help lower gas fees. Projects like Cream, that were originally built for the Ethereum blockchain have recently launched on the Binance smart chain.
In July the Nightingale upgrade was implemented to the chain via a hard fork. It introduced the new lightweight BEP-8 token standard introduced to accommodate smaller projects with limited token economies. It also amended the order expiration span on Binance DEX. Orders that contribute to overall liquidity of the DEX will benefit from a longer expiration period, which is now extended from 3 days to 30 days.
Singapore based-Tron had a growth-filled 2019 with a number of acquisitions and collaborations that have strengthened its position in the market. Tron announced a partnership with Swarm, which allows users to successfully issue STOs on the platform. Additionally, it made strides in the blockchain gaming sector, inking key partnerships with notable names such as MixMarvel and Loom.
Tron CEO and head cheerleader, Justin Sun, held a live stream on the 1st of January 2020 where he answered key questions regarding the sale of TRX tokens owned by the developers. He said that developers would not offload these tokens and negatively affect the price activity of the cryptocurrency for 2020.
Tron 4.0, the fourth major iteration of the Tron blockchain was released on the 7th of July. Key features of this iteration will be a new smart contract privacy feature that utilizes Zk-Snark technology and a new dual-layer consensus model.
The Tron blockchain has attempted to capitalize on the success of DeFi applications on the Ethereum platform by launching its own suite of Copycat protocols. The Justswap and Salmonswap built on Tron appear to be eerily similar in design and branding Uniswap and Sushiswap built on Ethereum. Both platforms have garnered impressive liquidity since launch and appear to target the Chinese crypto community.
Tron allows users to freeze TRX tokens and bypass gas for blockchain transactions, making it a cheaper alternative to the Ethereum network where growing gas fees for transactions have been a clear barrier to entry for many retail users. Tron’s growing DeFi ecosystem has both created onchain activity and price momentum for the TRX token.