Net neutrality: Unexpected solution to blockchain scaling

Aleksandar Kuzmanovic*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

There is a growing expectation, or at least a hope, that blockchains possess a disruptive potential in numerous domains because of their decentralized nature (i.e., no single entity controls their operations). Decentralization comes with a price, however: blockchains do not scale-they are incapable of processing a large, or even moderate, number of transactions in a timely manner. For example, bitcoin processes three transactions per second. The root of the problem-and the limiting factor for blockchains-is a trustless peer-to-peer network model, in which information must be suboptimally propagated to- and validated at-every hop in the network. Undoubtedly, cloud-delivery networks (e.g., Akamai or YouTube), which resolved similar performance challenges in other domains (e.g., web and video delivery), could help scale blockchains as well. The problem is that such large centralized infrastructures disturb the decentralized nature of blockchains, hence eliminating their disruptive potential. The question is, can cloud-delivery networks be used to scale blockchains without upsetting their decentralized nature? The answer is positive, and the key to the solution lies in an advanced version of an existing concept: net neutrality. Blockchain and the cryptocurrency revolution initiated by bitcoin in 20088 are thriving.The market capitalization of prominent cryptocurrencies, while highly volatile, continues to be measured in hundreds of billions of dollars. A unique feature of blockchains is the lack of centralized administration. They rely on third-party mediation, (i.e., a global peer-to-peer network of participants who validate and certify all transactions). Given the purely distributed and decentralized design of blockchains, many people believe that such systems have a disruptive potential in other areas beyond cryptocurrencies, including health care, government, manufacturing, retail, insurance, The Internet of things, the sharing economy, etc. Numerous high-tech companies, big and small, are closely watching the blockchain space, analyzing how the new technology could affect their existing or future operations. A major problem for blockchains is scalability. The blockchain system throughput is measured in the number of TPS (transactions per second) a system can support. Bitcoin's current average throughput of three TPS compares to 2,000 TPS average throughput in Visa's centralized system, 4,000 TPS daily peak, and 56,000 TPS maximum capacity. Without scalability, cryptocurrency systems will hardly become mainstream, and blockchains are unlikely to realize their disruptive potential in any other areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-78
Number of pages59
JournalQueue
Volume17
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)

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