Lightning networks have long been touted as one of the most powerful solutions for scaling Bitcoin. The basic premise is to allow users to send un broadcasted, signed Bitcoin transactions between each other before eventually settling those payments on the blockchain. There are a handful of companies currently working on various lightning network implementations, one of which is the world’s most popular bitcoin wallet, Blockchain.info.
Due to their large share of the bitcoin wallet market, Blockchain.info is in a unique position to guide the Bitcoin user base in a specific direction. CoinJournal recently reached out to Mats Jerratsch, who works on Blockchain.info’s own version of a lightning network (called Thunder), to get his thoughts on how the wallet provider’s users will be able to take advantage of this new technology.
Blockchain’s Market Share
While lightning networks don’t require the proposed Segregated Witness (SegWit) improvement to Bitcoin in order to function, the change would allow for more much efficient versions of these layer-two solutions to exist. Even if SegWit were to activate soon, bitcoin wallet providers would then still need to implement lightning network code into their software.
Blockchain.info could play a major role in regard to the adoption of lightning networks among Bitcoin users. When asked about this point, Jerratsch stated, “Yes – because of our market share, any product that we implement is directly usable by the majority of bitcoin users. This is a unique position; any other solution would need to be implemented by multiple parties before any effect on block size could be observed.”
Jerratsch also noted that the ThunderNetwork code is open source, so it’s possible other wallets are also implementing this solution for layer-two transactions.
The Thunder Network’s Impact on Block Space
When it comes to the impact lightning networks can have on the availability of block space, Jerratsch was not ready to share any specific estimates. “The dynamics of the resulting network are not totally clear yet, so we don’t yet know how many payments will be settled per channel or how long channels will exist, among other things,” he said.
Jerratsch is also of the belief that someone else will come in to use the block space that could be potentially freed up through the use of lightning networks. “If we took transactions worth 900kB off-chain, someone else will come and make use of that space rather soon, so I don’t think of this as ‘freeing up’ block space, since it’s a scarce resource that will quickly be used,” he noted.
According to Jerratsch, Blockchain.info have no plans to have its users transact with each other via Thunder by default. In his view, the layer-two solution will be attractive to those who transact frequently as on-chain transaction fees continue to rise. “For them, off-chain being the default would be great,” he added.
Jerratsch also commented on whether Blockchain.info will operate their own Thunder nodes. “Regarding nodes, we want this to be a free network and will only run nodes if necessary to bootstrap the network,” he stated.
A Standard for Lightning Networks
The fact that Blockchain.info has so many users also bodes well for their specific version of the lightning network (Thunder) gaining traction among the overall Bitcoin user base. Having said that, progress has been made towards specifications for interoperability, which means all nodes on compatible lightning networks will be able to communicate with each other.
In terms of Thunder’s compatibility with these new standards for lightning networks, Jerratsch stated, “Once the standard has reached final, we will look into the what needs to be done to make Thunder compatible.”