Bitcoin

Bitcoin Cash is about to split. The fourth-largest cryptocurrency, itself “forked” from Bitcoin from August 2017, is scheduled for a “hard fork” on May 15. The update, known as Bitcoin ABC, quadruples the block size from eight megabytes to 32 megabytes, and it could help further spur adoption in the wider marketplace.

The change represents one of the largest disputes in the cryptocurrency community. Bitcoin launched in 2009 with a one-megabyte block size storing transaction data. The global network can only process around seven transactions per second, where credit card networks can handle over 50,000. Where Bitcoin proponents suggest ideas like the “Lightning Network” that runs on top of the existing cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Cash was founded on the belief that a larger block size would mean more transactions processed at once and speed up the network. Bitcoin ABC continues this mission, and all Bitcoin Cash node runners are encouraged to adopt update version 0.17.0 prior to May 15.

Bitcoin Cash has surged over the past seven days.
Bitcoin Cash has surged over the past seven days.

The fork came about after seven development teams of Bitcoin Cash met in London in November 2017 to discuss where the community should go from here. Development team ABC said they wanted to “to keep improving [Bitcoin Cash] as a great form of money.” Alongside an adaptive block size, the update could also reduce block intervals to 2.5 minutes in a similar fashion to Litecoin, while also potentially activating dormant code to offer a similar feature to the ERC-20 tokens used in initial coin offerings on the Ethereum network.

It’s hard to say for sure whether the upgrades will prove a success. While Bitcoin Cash has flourished, some argue that it’s because of its confusing name that suggests a closer relationship to the original Bitcoin. A confusion earlier this year with computer hardware store Overstock meant users were charged the same price in Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, despite the latter being worth around six times less per coin. Litecoin creator Charlie Lee has criticized offshoot Litecoin Cash for creating the same confusion.

If the Bitcoin Cash fork goes well, it may not be the only upgrade on the cards — the Bitcoin ABS development team is already planning a subsequent upgrade on November 15, 2018.

If it’s not, it could go the way of Bitcoin Gold, with a $1 billion market cap a small fraction of Bitcoin’s $144 billion market cap.