Record Ethereum Network Use and Gas Fees Pose Risk to DeFi Expansion

The number of Ethereum network transactions more than doubled in 2020 and is now virtually identical to the January 2018 all-time high. 

As shown on the chart below, the number of transactions doubled in the past six months to stand at 1.23 million per day. 

Ethereum 7-day average daily transactions

Ethereum 7-day average daily transactions. Source: CoinMetrics

This situation might seem very bullish at first, but one must remember both EOS and Tron (TRX) started as ERC-20 tokens before launching their own mainnet and running fully independent blockchains.

A similar chain migration is happening on Tether’s USDT, a stablecoin which recently secured a $12 billion market capitalization

Tether was created under the OMNI protocol, which runs on the Bitcoin network and most of the USDT tokens were moved to the Ethereum network to avoid increasing Bitcoin (BTC) transaction fees. 

Ethereum 7-day average transaction fee

Ethereum 7-day average transaction fee. Source: BitInfoCharts

As Ethereum fees rose throughout 2019, a similar movement happened over the past year, as some Tether (USDT) holders opted for the Tron network. 

This occurred while median Ethereum transaction fees increased threefold to $0.14 in July 2019, although this seems insignificant compared to the current $3.

Current Tether USDT balance sheet

Current Tether USDT balance sheet. Source: Tether

The Tron network currently holds half the amount of USDT under ERC-20 and it will likely increase its share, considering the recent Ethereum network fees. 

For comparison, USD Tether was dominated by Omni in August 2019, while Tron represented less than 3% of its market capitalization.

Tether USDT balance sheet in August 2019

Tether USDT balance sheet in August 2019. Source: Tether

It is worth highlighting that USDT is currently circulating in EOS, Liquid, Algorand, and Bitcoin Cash SLP networks, although on a much smaller scale.

Can Ethereum-based networks survive surging transaction fees? 

To better gauge the odds of additional outflow from the Ethereum ecosystem, one should analyze what kind of transactions are taking place. Stablecoins, for example, have fewer incentives to withhold during periods of network constraint.

On the other hand, switching networks on DeFi applications such as Maker (MKR) and Compound (COMP) seem less obvious. 

Competing smart contract platforms have their disadvantages, and a much smaller ecosystem, as reported by Cointelegraph.

Top weekly active Ethereum tokens

Top weekly active Ethereum tokens. Source: Etherscan

Etherscan data shows growing use by Decentralized Finance (DeFi) applications on the Ethereum network, but how sustainable are those numbers considering the current fee levels?

Data from DefiPulse shows that the total value locked in DeFi grew an impressive five-fold over the past 90 days. While this is astounding, exactly how many of these Ethereum transactions are related to this figure? (YFI) transaction amount and count (YFI) transaction amount and count. Source: Etherscan

According to Etherscan data, (YFI) averaged daily 3,400 transactions in the past week with 15,700 token transfers. 

Considering its $5,175 price over that period, each transfer was worth $23,900 on average, meaning a $3 fee increase should not be an impediment.

To ascertain whether YFI is an outlier, one should analyze Synthetix Network Token (SNX), another DeFi contender among the top 20 most active Ethereum contracts.

Synthetix Network Token (SNX) transaction amount and count

Synthetix Network Token (SNX) transaction amount and count. Source: Etherscan

As per the above chart, SNX averaged daily 2,800 transactions past week with 8.3 million token transfers. Considering its $4.70 price over that period, each transfer was worth $13,900 on average. This is yet another indication that no exaggerated impact was caused by increasing Ethereum network fees.

What about oracles?

Chainlink (LINK) is the largest token aiming to provide oracle solutions, and despite being interoperable on multiple chains, it’s indeed an Ethereum ERC-20 token. 

Its increasing usage seems to be behind an impressive 88% surge over two weeks, as reported by Cointelegraph.

Chainlink (LINK) transaction amount and count

Chainlink (LINK) transaction amount and count. Source: Etherscan

LINK averaged 35,000 daily transactions in the past week and 34 million token transfers. Considering its $13.40 price over that period, each transfer was worth $13,000 on average.

This analysis is another positive indicator that despite the recent Ethereum network increasing fees, some major oracle and DeFi applications will be able to withstand it, at least momentarily.

Not every smart contract can thrive with the current fee level

The Ethereum network’s rising fees have been accelerating second layer solutions development on some DeFi applications. 

Although the overall impact for Ethereum might be positive, as it might prevent the migration of applications to competing networks, it certainly does not paint a good picture for investors and the general public.

Ethereum 2.0 development is under immense pressure to deliver a network which is better able to address the rapidly growing demand from stablecoins, oracles, decentralized exchanges, and DeFi. 

The most important question to ask now is will the current Ether (ETH) holders and the network developers adapt to the current constraints? 

The answer to this might depend on what competing cryptocurrency networks can offer, so in addition to tracking Ether price, wise investors should also monitor the network’s activity closely.

The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph. Every investment and trading move involves risk. You should conduct your own research when making a decision.