Chinese mining giant Bitmain caught the mining community off guard on Wednesday with the surprise launch of a new cryptocurrency miner.
The infamous Chinese company has had a chequered past among the cryptocurrency community, being embroiled in the scaling debate in 2017 which saw Bitmain lean towards support of Bitcoin Cash.
It now seems as though Bitmain is looking to squeeze the life out of another virtual currency - Siacoin.
The model is on sale in intermittent batches for around $2,375 in an attempt to stop vendors placing large orders of the unit. This has been a particular problem in recent months, as buyers flocked to get their hands on Bitmain’s Bitcoin S9 miners, as well as their Dash D3 and Litecoin L3+ miners.
We are proud and happy to announce that we are launching the Antminer A3, a new Antminer model to mine cryptocurrencies using the hashing algorithm Blake(2b).— BITMAIN (@BITMAINtech) January 17, 2018
The actual price and option to buy will be available here https://t.co/mrymOaMy4i after 2:30PM (17 Jan, GMT+8). pic.twitter.com/Ye0cxNn95M
Obelisk threatens soft fork
The announcement of the Antminer A3 launch came out of the blue and has already caused a stir in the mining community due to its focus on the Blake(2b) hashing algorithm.
Nebulous Labs, the studio behind Sia, launched its own ASIC cryptocurrency miner Obelisk which has been in presale since 2017. Two miners are available, the Decred cryptocurrency miner DC1 and the Siacoin miner SC1. The first batch has already sold out and is expected to ship in June of this year.
Bitmain’s surprise announcement effectively muscles in on the market before Obelisk has shipped its new SC1 miners. The Chinese mining company has promised delivery within 10 days following full payment.
This has not gone unnoticed, and Obelisk founder David Vorick posted a stern warning to Bitmain on the Obelisk Reddit forum, hinting at a soft fork that would disable the Bitmain A3 units from being able to mine the coin.
“Bitmain has a long history of being abusive towards coin communities, their customers and towards coin developers. We prepared for something like this by adding an extra feature to the SC1. We can do a soft fork that slightly changes the PoW algorithm which would invalidate the Bitmain ASICs, but allow the SC1 units to continue working. In the event of an attack from Bitmain, we can activate this soft fork.”
The Obelisk founder and Sia lead developer, known by his nickname taek, made it clear that a move like that would be a last resort to protect users that have preordered Obelisk miners.
“At this time, I do not think it is necessary, but if they start mining empty blocks or otherwise prove problematic for the network, we have recourse that does not involve destroying the usefulness of the SC1 units. This fork would, of course, require community adoption, it's not something the devs could decide to activate on their own. It would be a UASF because the majority hashrate would not be standing behind the soft fork.”
In a parting shot, Vorick said a final decision on the correct course of action rests in the hands of the mining community.
“Overall, I do not think we have much to worry about. Hopefully (and very likely), this soft fork will never be necessary. But I wanted to remind everyone (including Bitmain) that, at the end of the day, it is the community that has control, not the miners. If ASIC manufacturers act in a way that is harmful to the network, we have recourse.”
According to Obelisk’s website, 3,598 SCI units were sold in the first preorder batch. 1,585 SCI units have been sold to date in the second presale batch.
Standing up to the big dogs
Bitmain’s mining pools, Antpool and BTC.com, account for over 29 percent of the world’s hashing power, which some experts believe challenges the decentralized nature of Bitcoin. Furthermore its estimated that 70 percent of the world’s Bitcoin miners use Antpool hardware.
Business is ruthless, and Bitmain’s secret launch of the Antminer A3s show that they are looking to outfox their competitors at every turn.
Bitmain hasn’t broken any rules, but it's good to see that Obelisk are willing to stand up and make preeminent moves of their own. But once again, it's likely that the mining community will have the final say.