Knives out for ETH: A guide to Ethereum killers

Ethereum is set to keep its leading status but the opposition has some tricks up their sleeves

Cardano logo seemingly breaking Ethereum logo into pieces                                 
Can Cardano break Ethereum’s monopoly apart? – Photo: Shutterstock
                                

Contents

With a market capitalisation in excess of $367.5bn (£269.7bn) and seven years of exposure behind it, Ethereum is by far the largest smart contract platform in existence. Its native coin, ether (ETH), is second only to bitcoin as the largest cryptocurrency, while its ecosystem of leading DApps includes many of the largest decentralised finance (DeFi) products, metaverse platforms, stablecoins, payment systems and even insurance offerings.

But competition has never been more fierce in the blockchain space. New platforms continue to arise, many with far superior scalability, customisability and transactional throughput than Ethereum. So which are the Ethereum killers to watch out for? Do any stand a chance in stealing Ethereum’s crown? Will the veteran of smart contracts remain the GOAT?

Reality check

Speaking to a range of stakeholders in the blockchain and cryptocurrency spaces, it becomes clear that Ethereum’s dominance, although challenged more than ever, is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

“We agree there is no such thing as ‘Ethereum Killers’,” said Raullen Chai, head of strategy and co-founder of the IoTeX blockchain. It is safe to say that IoTeX will not be challenging Ethereum’s hegemony any time soon, but that might not be the point. 

Chai explained: “IoTeX is quite unique because while all blockchain projects have monetisation models, IoTeX brings its own utility by connecting physical devices to the blockchain to not only better secure them, but to monetise from their data.”

IoTeX’s marriage of physical hardware with blockchain technology could be indicative of where the competitive blockchain market is heading, in which newer offerings need to bring something fresh and innovative to the market. This sentiment is shared by Oleg Kotlyarov, tech entrepreneur and CEO of the play-to-earn gaming platform Attarius.

Kotlyarov told Currency.com: “It is all too common to hear almost any up-and-coming platform calling itself an ‘Ethereum Killer’. Let’s be realistic, the liquidity, adoption and number of Ethereum-based businesses is far from reachable.

“We believe market innovation will come in the form of niche blockchain developments, where different spheres will have their own market leaders, in DeFi, GameFi, NFTs, etc.” 

Into the multi-chain-verse

Most cryptocurrency commentators tend to agree that diversification is inevitable in the blockchain space. George Voulgaropoulos, a Web3 analyst at MODA DAO, told Currency.com: “I see ‘Ethereum Killer’ being thrown around a lot, and the term assumes that there will be a single chain that dominates. I believe this is not a great way to look at the space.”

But although Voulgaropoulos believes that Ethereum will remain the dominant blockchain, given that it is host to the largest number of big-ticket Defi platforms, “with finite land to expand, we see competing Layer-1 blockchains thriving, and each of them brings new benefits and attracts people to use their chain”. This “multi-chain world” (a term used by Haseeb Qureshi in a recent medium post) is “a very different landscape to the beginning of 2021,” Voulgaropoulos said.

Perhaps we have reached, or are very near to reaching, the limit in regards to transactions per second (TPS) and cost efficiency. If so, blockchain offerings more than ever need to find innovative new ways to make their mark in the space.

Key competitors

The general consensus may be that Ethereum’s hegemony will remain, but which so-called Ethereum killers are hoping to take a bite out of its market dominance?

Jamie Dessar, chief metaverse officer at MetaFrames, points to Polkadot, Solana and Polygon as the primary Ethereum competitors. “All three of these networks are fully Web3 ready, playing a vital part in DAOs (decentralised autonomous organisations), DApps and the purchasing of NFTs with much smaller gas fees than the Ethereum network,” Dessar said.

Voulgaropoulos mentioned Fantom, Terra and Avalanche (AVAX) as Layer-1 blockchains “pushing the limits of the minimal level of decentralisation users will accept [while] achieving a tremendous amount of throughput with fast and cheap transaction speeds”.

Ethereum Killer round one: Solana (SOL)

Solana boasts some of the most impressive stats of the top Ethereum killers. In addition to a transactions-per-second rate consistently above 2,500 (with potential rates in the tens of thousands), gas fees are almost non-existent. Dessar said: “Solana has a unique PoH [Proof of History] mechanism that can support 65,000 transactions per second, which is gigantic compared to the top smart contact network now [Ethereum]) that can only process 15 transactions per second. Also, with fees about a thousand times lower than Ethereum, I feel this makes SOL a strong candidate to become one of Ethereum’s major competitors.”

Graph showing Solana’s TPS
Although impressive, Solana’s TPS could potentially go much higher – Credit: explorer.solana.com

Despite Ethereum’s comparatively lacklustre transactional efficiency, however, Solana’s high degree of centralisation is a major downside.

Pie charts of the blockchain tokens’ initial distribution
Solana has one of the most restricted public sales of all blockchains. Ethereum was the opposite – Credit: messari.io

Solana’s numerous outages in throughout 2021 shone a light on the dangers of a centralised network. One outage, attributed to a denial-of-service attack, knocked 35% of market value off the blockchain.

Critics point to Solana’s reliance on a singular entity (the Solana Foundation) tasked with developing core nodes on the blockchain as the reason behind its centralised structure. Regardless, Voulgaropoulos noted a massive influx of game developments and NFT platforms on Solana, markets “where centralisation isn’t as much of an issue”.

Ethereum Killer round two: Avalanche (AVAX)

Despite Ethereum’s claim to superior decentralisation, Voulgaropoulos said: “I feel AVAX is leading the way in its plans to move to further decentralisation with accessible blockchain validation. They are building a new value proposition to reduce the cost to enter the network and attract more validator nodes.” In total, Avalanche has 1,258 validators securing the network and 16,942 delegators. In all, 60% of total AVAX supply is currently bonded to the network.

Avalanche boasts some other impressive figures, including up to 4,500 TPS against Ethereum’s 15 and a two-second transaction finality against (according to Avalanche's own statstics) Ethereum’s average of six minutes.

Chart of throughput and finality of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Polkadot and Avalanche – Photo: avax.network
Transactional finality is subject to large fluctuations, while throughput is generally more stable – Credit: avax.network

That said, these claims do not necessarily represent reality. By Avalanche’s own statistics dashboard, throughput generally ticks along below the 300 TPS mark. While still considerably faster than Ethereum, these numbers are still a long way off what is advertised.

Graph of Avalanche’s TPS – Photo: stats.avalanche.network
TPS above 800 was seen in 2021 – Credit: stats.avax.network

That has not stopped some of the leading DeFi protocols from choosing Avalanche as their launchpad of choice. Pangolin, ParaSwap, SushiSwap and Trader Joe all live on Avalanche, proving that the blockchain is highly optimised for high-volume DeFi DApps.

Ethereum Killer round three: Polkadot (DOT)

Polkadot is among the most innovative of the Ethereum killers. Rather than simply focusing on providing “Ethereum on steroids” – souped up with zippier TPS finality rates – Polkadot’s creators focus on bringing scalability and interoperability to the next level.

To do this, Polkadot created what are known as parachains. In basic terms, parachains are bespoke blockchains, allowing DApps built on Polkadot’s main chain (called the relay chain) to function heterogeneously. Unlike Ethereum DApps, Polkadot DApps can be developed with a level of customisation previously unattainable.

Polkadot’s innovations do not stop there. The parachains can speak to each other, meaning transactions and information can be sent across different networks attached to the relay chain.

Polkadot founder Gavin Wood, in a speech before the October 2021 Wanxiang Blockchain Global Summit, took aim at the competition. “Many [blockchains] favour a hybrid centralised and decentralised approach which gives overall greater amount of power to certain participants in the network over others. In effect, not making it peer to peer,” Wood said.

 “This compromises both its security and… the fact that it can operate at all under certain environments,” he added.

But how do Polkadot’s decentralised credentials stack up? The answer goes back to Polkadot’s parachains, which act in an independent, sovereign manner.

Table of energy consumption per blockchain
Solana and Cardano are the most energy-intensive PoS blockchains – Credit: Energy Efficiency and Carbon Footprint of PoS Blockchain Protocols, January 2022

Polkadot also wins the award for the cleanest blockchain in this list, according to the January 2022 Energy Efficiency and Carbon Footprint of PoS Blockchain Protocols report by the Crypto Carbon Ratings Institute (CCRI), which was compiled by experts from the Technical University of Munich, ETH Zurich and MIT.

Ethereum Killer round four: Cardano (ADA)

No discussion of Etherium killers would be complete without Cardano (ADA). With a market capitalisation of more that $36bn (down from much higher figures in the second half of 2021), Cardano’s ADA coin is the largest of the proof-of-stake (PoS) blockchain coins, ahead of Solana’s $31bn, Avalanche’s $22bn and Polkadot’s $19bn.

Founded in 2015, Cardano is something of a veteran Ethereum killer, although its actual smart contracts only went live in 2021. The history of Cardano and Ethereum is intrinsically linked: Charles Hoskinson established Cardano after an infamous falling out with fellow Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin in 2013.

As Business Insider reported, tensions still exist between the two, and accounts still vary as to the nature of Hoskinson’s departure. Some say Hoskinson was fired, although he continues to dispute these claims.

Buterin and Hoskinson, with a third male individual in 2014 – Photo: Flickr via decrypt.com
Buterin (left) and Hoskinson (right) circa 2014 – Photo: Flickr via decrypt.co

Whatever may have happened, Cardano is shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with in the blockchain space, with a steadily growing ecosystem of DApps across the breadth of uses; not least the deal with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education to create a blockchain-based digital identity for five million students and teachers across the country.

Since Cardano's mainnet was effectively only live from September 2021, detailed data on network decentralisation is not readily accessible, but a blog post released alongside the Shelly upgrade stated: “We expect Cardano to be 50-100 times more decentralised than other large blockchain networks, with the incentives scheme designed to reach equilibrium around 1,000 stake pools.”

Given the vintage team and the substantial potential for growth, 2022 will determine whether Cardano will turn out to be a true Ethereum killer or not.

Bonus Round: Polygon (MATIC), Terra (LUNA) and Algorand (ALGO)

According to Dessar, “Polygon (MATIC) has great potential… It can handle mass transactions, process a lot quicker than Ethereum, and save major transaction fees.” Technically speaking, Polygon is a sidechain of Ethereum rather than a distinct blockchain.

Explaining how this works, Dessar said: “Because of the ability to process transactions off-chain before finalising them to move them to the main Ethereum chain, this has allowed DApp users and developers to grow and achieve what the Ethereum network struggled with on its own.” Polygon currently has a market capitalisation of $13.33bn.

The Terra protocol “is the leading decentralised and open-source public blockchain protocol for algorithmic stablecoins”. Although Terra is a niche blockchain for stablecoin-based DeFi operations, its $22bn market capitalisation put it in the top ten cryptocurrencies globally.

Algorand, with a market capitalisation of $6.45bn, might be the smallest blockchain on this list of Ethereum killers, but it boasts some impressive stats, notably a network of 1,805 validation nodes and more than 11,000 engaged developers. A TPS rate of 21 might not be overly ambitious, but block finality of 4.4 seconds is impressive.

Final thoughts

Given its planned transition to PoS, 2022 is an important year for Ethereum. Voulgaropoulos said: “The narrative to be the next 'Ethereum Killer’ will dissipate with Ethereum Layer2 scaling solutions gaining traction and wallets focusing on simplifying the bridge between chains.”

Conversely, Chai observed: “The development is too slow and ETH2 has already been postponed for over two years. At this point, it is still not clear whether they will be able to deliver this year… While ETH2 remains unlaunched, innovation on Ethereum also slows down because new and small projects cannot pay for the gas fees to experiment on their platform.”

While nobody seems to believe that any Ethereum competitors will stage a takeover in the short term, the level of dominance that the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency has over the market will be contingent on how it keeps up with the increasingly innovative alternatives coming onto the scene.

FAQs

Ethereum’s ETH coin is the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency behind bitcoin. Long-term investors have managed to see healthy returns, although as the recent dip attests, cryptocurrencies are highly volatile and losses are just as probable, if not more so, than gains. Always invest wisely.

ETH’s long-term viability as an investment is heavily contingent on wider financial trends, as well as Ethereum’s own fundamental underpinnings. As we have seen previously, investors can get substantial returns from holding onto ETH, but losses are just as possible. You should be careful not to invest with more than you can afford to lose.

You should come to that conclusion after consulting expert financial advisers and conducting your own thorough due diligence. Currency.com is an informational resource and should not be relied on for financial advice. Always invest wisely and with a cool head.

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