On Dec. 2, shortly after the long-awaited release of Ethereum 2.0, platform founder Vitalik Buterin announced an updated roadmap. At first glance, it does not differ much from the previous version from March.
However, it brought some clarity on current progress and further stages, giving grounds for estimating how soon a full-fledged transition to proof-of-stake and the launch of sharding can be expected. Just a spoiler: The full implementation of Ethereum 2.0 will not be coming soon.
Formally Ethereum 2.0, but not yet
Dec. 1 marked a pivotal event for the entire crypto industry as the first block of the new Ethereum network was generated, the one developers had been preparing to see through for the past few years. Ethereum 2.0 is expected to become a super-fast, reliable version of the previous blockchain, all thanks to so-called sharding and the transition to the PoS consensus algorithm.
In fact, the update that came out under the name Ethereum 2.0 is not entirely what its namesake claims to be, and the Beacon Chain, its first phase, is actually Phase 0. The Beacon Chain is needed exclusively for the development and testing of innovations that, if successful, will be introduced into the main Ethereum 2.0 network.
Thus, the second upgrade is more fundamental, as the platform will finally let go of proof-of-work and will be fully supported by the stakers. Simply put, Phase 0 — aka the Beacon Chain — lays a basis for implementing staking and sharding in the next upgrade, or as figuratively explained by the Ethereum team, serves as “a new engine” of the future spacecraft.
Even though Ethereum formally switched to version 2.0, the network still depends on the computing power of miners. The developers also launched PoS in parallel to gradually recruiting the stakers necessary to ensure the stable operation of the network. Praneeth Srikanti, investment principle at ConsenSys Ventures, discussed with Cointelegraph the structure and functionality of the Beacon Chain:
“The new beacon chain runs on Casper POS for itself and the shard chains — and would ultimately be managing validators, choosing a block proposer for each shard and organizing validator groups (in the form of committees) for voting on the proposed blocks and managing consensus rules.”
Srikanti added that the PoS mechanism is already live on the Beacon Chain and that it requires attestations for shard blocks and PoS votes for the Beacon Chain blocks. The network is now ready enough for users to join and become validators. To do so, they need to have 32 Ether (ETH) in their accounts, locked for transfer and exchange until the network fully transitions to new characteristics.
The rewards that validators receive for supporting the new blockchain will also be locked until the release of the next phase, meaning that stakers will probably be able to access their funds no earlier than 2021 or 2022. Commenting on how the changes in the Ethereum 2.0 roadmap can affect stakers, Jay Hao, CEO of OKEx, told Cointelegraph:
“While it does most likely mean that users will have to wait longer until they can withdraw their ETH from staking, there are still many advantages to staking ETH. To start with, stakers are supporting the move to ETH 2.0 and the ETH community. They will earn generous rewards when they do withdraw and, it is always possible (especially in this fast-paced industry) that other solutions will appear that expedite this new timeline.”
The implementation of shards — another unique invention of Ethereum, thanks to which the network will be able to provide services to hundreds of millions of users — will also be available only in future versions of the blockchain. It’s expected that there will be 65 of them in the new Ethereum network, with the Beacon Chain acting as a control blockchain. The paradox is that sharding is not applied to the Beacon Chain, which will actually be the focal point of the network.
The Ethereum development team has been repeatedly criticized for missing deadlines and constantly delaying the updates. So, what is the real state of affairs at this time? Judging by the progress bar that the developers of Ethereum have added to the new roadmap, the implementation of the second update is not expected anytime soon.
Work on the most important tasks necessary for a full transition to a new network — namely, Eth1/Eth2 merge implementation — is in its early stages, with about 15% completed. Things are more positive on the sharding frontier, with about half of the work already done, judging by the progress bar.
The good news is that the new roadmap is missing Phases 1.5, 2 and others that were present in previous versions of the document. This means that a full-fledged transition to a new network can be expected sooner and that the next phase will be the final one, combining all of the most important updates. Earlier, it was expected that shard chains would appear in Phase 1, and only after that, in the second phase, would SNARK/STARK transactions become possible. Now, all of these updates are expected to be launched under Phase 1, and some progress has already been made toward that end.
The organization of the teams’ work has also changed from step-by-step to parallel. The new roadmap suggests that the execution of each task is organized autonomously and is not disrupted in the event of difficulties with the other segments. In other words, different teams can work on different tasks at the same time, which may speed up the transition to the new network.
Some of the tasks can be expected soon, as indicated by the roadmap. In particular, the developers have already done the bulk of the work on implementing the EIP 1559 protocol, aimed at stabilizing the cost of commissions on the network and gas repricing. In addition, the release of EVM384, which will allow for faster operations of the Ethereum Virtual Machine, is in the process of transitioning to a more advanced version called “Ethereum-flavored WebAssembly,” or Ewasm.
Interestingly, Ewasm is the only major implementation missing in the new roadmap. It will probably come as part of the upgrade called “VM upgrades,” and its implementation will not be carried out in the next phase. It’s expected that Ewasm will manage the work of smart contracts and make the network more decentralized.
Layer-two solutions advancing scalability and security such as SNARK/STARK operations, post-quantum crypto and the launch of CBC Casper — an improved version of the protocol that will mark the final transition of the network to the staking model — remain among the solutions that are likely to appear much later on.
When will Eth2 fully launch?
Looking at how fast the relevant updates were implemented in the previous versions of Ethereum roadmaps, it turns out that the planned and real release dates are about a year apart, at the very minimum. Thus, for example, according to the estimates made by the developers of large blockchain software company ConsenSys in May 2019, the release of the Beacon Chain blockchain was supposed to have happened back in 2019.
Regarding the Ewasm release, the full-scale launch of the machine is supposed to occur in 2020 or 2021. This means that it should be expected to come no earlier than 2021 to 2022 — the time frame that coincides with the one set by the Ethereum developer team for the Ethereum 2.0 mainnet release.
Still, the full scope of work that needs to be done before the Ethereum 2.0 blockchain becomes fully complete can make it challenging to set predictions. Meanwhile, some suggest that upgrade releases could be delayed for an even longer period of time. YouTube crypto blogger Boxmining recommended adding one to two years to the previous estimates, suggesting that the market will see Casper and sharding in full glory only in 2022 to 2023.
A more pessimistic forecast suggests that it might take years before the market will see the final version of Ethereum 2.0. Himanshu Bisht, marketing head at Razor Network — which operates on a PoS consensus algorithm — told Cointelegraph that such a timeframe is realistic: “Mainnet Ethereum will need to ‘merge’ with the beacon chain at some point. This will be the start of a new phase of the Ethereum ecosystem in a true sense. However, we might not be able to see this before February, 2022.”
Nir Kshetri, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a research fellow at Kobe University, agreed that the Ethereum 2.0 transition is likely to take a fair bit of time. According to him, the EVM upgrade is a challenging process, as he further told Cointelegraph:
“Organizations are likely to be effectively locked in EVM and it is difficult to break the self-reinforcing mechanism. There are already millions of existing smart contracts and enormous amounts of tools and languages, optimizations. On top of that convincing Ethereum users that the PoS is safe and secure is a challenge of another magnitude.”
Paolo Ardoino, chief technology officer of crypto exchange Bitfinex, told Cointelegraph that the full transition to Ethereum 2.0 could take three years, although he doesn’t rule out a faster development:
“I think that after this initial phase, it is likely that the pace of Ethereum 2.0 development will improve over the coming year. We wonder if full Ethereum 2.0 transition will be complete up to 3 years from now, but we expect token transfers will likely be available earlier than that.”
On the other hand, a streamlined organization of Ethereum client operations and the work of developers, as well as immense assistance from the community, can significantly reduce the time frame of the roadmap. In general, as the Beacon Chain explorer shows, the deployment of the new PoS network is proceeding successfully. At the moment, more than 33,000 users have become stakers, with almost 1.1 million ETH staked so far.