How Will Bitcoin’s Lightning Network Be Used?

It’s possible bitcoin’s Lightning Network will fall short of its lofty ambition – at least, that’s what a group of researchers are arguing.

Often trumpeted as the future of bitcoin, Lightning’s particular twist on payments channels has served as one of the foundational ideas for scaling all public blockchains. By proposing to push transactions off of the bitcoin blockchain, but keeping strong cryptographic guarantees intact, it’s believed by many developers to be the best way to increase the number of transactions the network can handle.

But the pressure for Lightning may be on. With bitcoin’s debate over its own scaling roadmap now paused, some businesses, upset by the decision, are watching and waiting to see how Lightning develops. Others are packing bags – threatening to migrate to alternative blockchains with fewer users (and thus less expensive transactions).

But, if new research is any indication, there could be some bumps in the road ahead.

Specifically, computer science researchers Simina Brânzei and Eral Segal-Halevi and assistant professor Aviv Zohar have been exploring what a Lightning Network economy might look like. At issue is whether people will actually use it, or if they will simply send normal bitcoin transactions.

In this way, Zohar argues enthusiastically that, although much of bitcoin’s scaling debate has centered on technological theory (whether Lightning transactions could be achieved), not much has been done in the way of determining how consumers and businesses will actually react to it.

He told CoinDesk:

“Sometimes people talk about Lightning as if it’s a done deal. They point out there are early implementations and all the work that’s been done so far. But I think the fate of it will be determined partly by economic forces.”

Transaction competition

But Zohar and his colleagues are also making assumptions. As part of their research, yet to be formalized in a white paper, they are building off of a generalization that there are two main types of transactions…

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