Bitcoin Is The #1 Cryptocurrency. So Why Isn’t It The Standard For Real-World Utility?

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Decentralized applications such as DeFi and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have emerged as the primary focus of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. DeFi is seen as a killer application for blockchain, bringing financial services that go beyond payments to anyone via a peer-to-peer system. NFTs, meanwhile, have numerous use cases, ranging from digital art to fractional ownership of assets. 

The growth of DeFi especially is telling. According to CoinMarketCap, the total market capitalization of all DeFi protocols currently stands at over $59 billion

Bitcoin still leads the way in terms of it being the most valuable cryptocurrency asset, with a current market cap of $453 billion at the time of writing. It was, after all, the world’s original cryptocurrency and is by far and away the most popular. But for all of its market dominance, Bitcoin has been overshadowed by the rise of smart contract blockchains such as Ethereum. This is a direct result of its lack of utility. Bitcoin is a payment network and acts as a store of value, and some see it as a good investment. But that’s about as far as it goes. Ethereum, on the other hand, has numerous use cases besides those, being the foundation of DeFi, NFTs, GameFi, metaverses, and more. 

Bitcoin doesn’t support any of those applications. Those who want to trade Bitcoin are forced to do so on centralized cryptocurrency exchanges. There’s no using BTC in the hundreds of DeFi applications that have emerged over the past few years. So BTC cannot be used as a form of collateral to borrow another digital asset, nor can it be “staked” for passive income. 

As a result of its lack of utility, Bitcoin has effectively lost its crown as the king of crypto, at least when it comes to anything but payments.

What’s Behind Bitcoin’s Lack Of Utility? 

Bitcoin’s alienation from the world of DeFi and NFTs is due to its underlying infrastructure. DeFi apps require smart contracts to function, and the various digital assets available to buy, sell, swap and stake on different DeFi platforms all share a common infrastructure, namely Ethereum or another smart contract blockchain. 

Smart contracts are coded agreements that are programmed to self-execute when certain conditions have been met, meaning no intermediary is required. That’s what makes DeFi decentralized. But Bitcoin’s underlying blockchain network, at its inception, did not support smart contracts.

It’s this lack of support that enabled Ethereum to emerge as the world’s number one DeFi and NFT chain. Ethereum, unlike Bitcoin, was designed expressly for this purpose, as a platform to host decentralized applications built by its community of developers. 

Ethereum, therefore, had a first-mover advantage, and around 70% of the digital assets listed on cryptocurrency exchanges today are hosted on its blockchain. These tokens are all based on the ERC-20 standard designed by the Ethereum community, and share the same infrastructure. 

Making Bitcoin Smarter

Ethereum still maintains a solid grip on the DeFi and NFT landscape even with the rise of dozens of more efficient competing smart contract chains like BNB Chain, Avalanche, Solana, Tezos, and Tron. Despite being faster at processing transactions, none of these new platforms has come close to threatening Ethereum’s crown so far. But a number of recent developments could well see Bitcoin emerge as its biggest rival. 

In late 2021, Bitcoin underwent a major upgrade known as “Taproot” that made it possible for its underlying infrastructure to support smart contracts at last. Bitcoin smart contracts are, to all intents and purposes, the same as those on Ethereum in that they execute automatically once specified conditions are met, and their transactions are irreversible. 

Bitcoin smart contract support is enabled through its programming language, called Script. Using Script, developers can establish predetermined conditions that must be met for a transaction to proceed. Users must satisfy those conditions to unlock their BTC and have them processed on its blockchain. 

With the Taproot upgrade, Bitcoin now supports a range of smart contracts including the Pay-to-Public Hash, which makes it possible for BTC to be sent to a specified address on the condition that it can only be accessed by the owner of the private key. It also supports multi-signature scripts, which are smart contracts that can only unlock the BTC sent by a user once a number of public key holders authorize it. Time-Locked Bitcoin Transactions are also available, making it possible for BTC transactions to be scheduled or time-locked. 

Expanding Bitcoin’s Utility

A number of projects have emerged that aim to take advantage of Bitcoin’s new capabilities, including Mintlayer, which is a sidechain that aims to build an ecosystem of Bitcoin-native DeFi dApps, NFTs, stablecoins, and tokenized assets that inherit its industry-leading security. 

Mintlayer takes advantage of Script to enable non-Turing complete smart contracts on Bitcoin. They’re a bit different from the Turing-complete smart contracts on Ethereum. Turing-complete enables the system to process complex rule sets of data manipulation, meaning developers have almost infinite possibilities when it comes to creating smart contracts. Mintlayer’s non-Turing-Complete smart contracts, on the other hand, sacrifice some versatility but their reduced complexity means they’re less vulnerable to code exploits and can be processed faster. 

This is important because, for all its dominance, Ethereum’s DeFi scene is one that’s incredibly risky. Ethereum’s DeFi history is one that’s littered with numerous stories of hacks, occurring on an almost weekly basis. Ethereum’s blockchain also still struggles with heavy congestion at times – even after undergoing a major upgrade last year. Mintlayer’s approach could be a solution to both issues. Its Script-based smart contracts result in less congestion of the network as they can execute more quickly. Meanwhile, the lower complexity means there is less chance that developers might make a mistake and leave vulnerabilities in their code. 

Mintlayer’s primary goal is to make it possible for users to mint all kinds of tokenized assets on the Bitcoin blockchain through a new MLS 01 standard. So we could have tokenized stocks, stablecoins, bonds, asset-backed tokens, and more. These would all be issued on the Bitcoin blockchain, secured by the crypto industry’s most decentralized chain. Mintlayer has also created the MLS 02 for privacy-based tokens (which carry higher transaction fees), and the MLS 03 standard for NFTs. 

In this way, Bitcoin has acquired the same level of utility as Ethereum, together with the prospect of increased security. Bitcoin can now handle DeFi, NFTs, GameFi, metaverses, and more, and users’ funds will likely be safer too. 

Transaction speed remains an issue for Bitcoin despite its smart contracts being able to execute faster, simply because Bitcoin itself is notoriously slow. It’s only able to handle between 7 and 14 transactions per second. However, Mintlayer is looking to solve this as well, by bringing its Script-based smart contracts to the Lightning Network, a Layer-2 scaling solution for Bitcoin that enables micropayments to be completed in just seconds. 

So Bitcoin has the smart contracts, it has the security and it also has the edge in terms of transaction speeds. All that’s left now is for the community to build out Bitcoin’s DeFi and NFT ecosystems. When that happens, Bitcoin will have the functional ecosystem it requires to fully wrest its crown back from Ethereum and return to its rightful throne as the king of crypto. 


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