Initial Coin Offering (ICOs) has become a popular means for startups to raise funds for their blockchain projects. The previous year has seen plentiful growth in ICO projects with more than $5.3bn raised from 343 token sales. Despite the corrections currently experienced in the cryptocurrency market, the momentum behind ICO funding has not faded away. Quite the reverse, it has been rising, with $8bn raised from 334 token sales year to date at the time of writing representing 151% of the total ICO funding for 2017. Even excluding Telegram’s $1.7bn, ICO funding still represents 118% of the total 2017 ICO funding.
The high growth in popularity can be contributed to blockchain-based platforms that provide a toolkit for developers to build decentralised applications (DApps). Ethereum is arguably the most popular platform. It currently powers 547 active blockchain projects. Ethereum’s goal is to create a platform for the development of DApps in order to create a “more globally accessible, more free and more trustworthy internet”. Ethereum offers a suitable and convenient infrastructure, and with the ERC-20 guideline, there is also a unified standard in which tokens based on Ethereum can rely upon.
However, since Ethereum is still currently using a Proof-of-Work (POW) consensus algorithm, it has trouble dealing with large transaction volumes and has received a lot of criticism for constantly being clogged. This has also prompted many notable projects to shift away from the Ethereum platform to their own platform. The network currently handles an average of ten transactions per second. In addition, high Ether gas prices are associated with transactions, which is used to execute smart contracts. For Ethereum, 2018 will be the year of infrastructure. These include the ideas surrounding scalability, Plasma, Proof-of-Stake and privacy.
Speaking to TechCrunch, the Ethereum research team including Justin Drake and co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, discussed different scaling
solutions and their timeline projections. The two current priorities are the Casper protocol and Sharding. Drake expects integrating sharding with Casper in the new initiative “Ethereum 2.0”, to roll out in 2020. The sharding approach aims to split the network into several concurrent networks by having each group of nodes carry out a particular task rather than having every node on the network verify each piece of information. This is to help ease the congestion the network faces. At present, the first version of Hybrid Casper suggests that the current time frame is on track for the full release by end of summer or in fall. Its aim is to incrementally remove POW and replace them with POS.
Many have classified NEO as the “Chinese Ethereum,” which to an extent have some truth as the Chinese government has a history of protecting local companies willing to cooperate with China’s strict regulations. It is also one reason for the success of Baidu, WeChat, Didi Chuxing, Alibaba and JD.com among others. NEO is in a similar position as it aims to be a platform for a smart economy through its
NEP-5 tokens. This is already seen with successful ICOs including Onthology, Deepbrain Chain, QLink and Red Pulse.
Different from Ethereum’s current POW consensus mechanism, NEO uses a delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerant (dBFT) consensus mechanism. In short, it is aiming to solve the Byzantine Generals Problem and thus requires every validator to know every other
validator, and aims to co-operate instead of competing for rewards. In the Jibrel Network conference back in January, NEO claimed their scalability can handle 1,000 transactions per second.
The disadvantage of this system is the level of decentralisation, as this approach to consensus is too centralised, which is typically deployed in private blockchains such as Hyperledger. In fact, NEO is incredibly centralised with only 13 validation nodes in the network and these are mostly controlled by the NEO team. However, NEO also has an independent open-source group of developers working on the NEO blockchain, City of Zion. They have received funding from NEO to incentivise project development, including the NEON wallet and the NEO block scanner. In fact, NEO’s move for more decentralisation has begun with the election of a City of Zion consensus node and to have at
least two-thirds of network nodes to be decentralised. This suggests that there will a need of at least an additional 26 validation nodes. This is may be difficult to attain, as there are currently only seven consensus node candidates.
The Year Ahead
2018 will be a year of DApps ecosystem expansion with both strong investments from the NEO council and over 30 DApps built using its
infrastructure with some highly anticipated projects and milestones to look forward to. These projects appear to target industries and
functions relating to business applications within payment, artificial intelligence, social media, privacy and identity, and scaling among others. The coming twelve months will bring Neon Exchange’s (NEX) Q3 of 2018 Mainnet trading release. NEX is a decentralized exchange platform that would enable cross-chain trading and have smart contract capabilities. nOS, one of the newest projects, was unveiled during the Amsterdam Summit back in April, is planning to release its testnet by the end of the year and be on the NEO mainnet by Q1 2019. The project aims to encourage consumer-level adoption of NEO DApps by providing an operating system run on mobile and desktop. NEO continuous in its focus to have its platform be regulatory compliant.