NEW YORK (InsideBitcoins) — Bitcoin core developer Gavin Andresen gave the opening talk on day two of the 2015 MIT Bitcoin Expo, and his remarks mainly focused on the issue of scaling bitcoin to potentially billions of new users in the future. Andresen covered some of the improvements that have already been implemented for the purposes of scaling the bitcoin blockchain, and he also seemed rather optimistic in regards to the bitcoin developer community’s ability to help bitcoin scale as a widely-used store of value, payment system, and global ledger for storing facts that cannot be repudiated.
We’ve already made some progress
During his presentation, Andresen pointed out that some progress towards a scalable blockchain has already been made by a variety of bitcoin developers. The first example he pointed to is the 0.10 release of Bitcoin Core. It now takes “hours instead of days” to download the bitcoin blockchain thanks to this most recent version of the core protocol. Andresen also noted that pruning should be ready “soon”, which would allow users to only store the data they need to validate new transactions rather than the entire blockchain.
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Recent work completed by Blockstream’s Greg Maxwell and Matt Corallo should allow block announcements to be “up to a hundred times smaller” was also mentioned by Andresen. This has not been pushed into the core protocol yet, but Andresen noted that it “will speed up the network part of block propagation by a couple orders of magnitude.” This is the sort of “low-hanging fruit” that Andresen believes can eventually help scale the bitcoin blockchain to where it needs to be in the future.
Satoshi was optimistic too
Although Andresen pointed out a few specific aspects of scaling bitcoin that have him worried, he also noted that he doesn’t think the process of scaling will be a big deal:
“Is scaling a big deal? I actually think it’s not, and Satoshi didn’t think it was going to be a big deal.”
Andresen was referencing what appears to be bitcoin inventor Satoshi Nakamoto’s second ever public statement, in which he noted:
“The bandwidth might not be as prohibitive as you think. A typical transaction would be about 400 bytes (ECC is nicely compact). Each transaction has to be broadcast twice, so lets say 1KB per transaction. Visa processed 37 billion transactions in FY2008, or an average of 100 million transactions per day. That many transactions would take 100GB of bandwidth, or the size of 12 DVD or 2 HD quality movies, or about $18 worth of bandwidth at current prices.
“If the network were to get that big, it would take several years, and by then, sending 2 HD movies over the Internet would probably not seem like a big deal.”
In other words, Satoshi’s view was that bandwidth costs would probably be much cheaper once bitcoin started to become a widely-used technology. It’s worth pointing out that Nielsen’s Law states network connection speeds for certain high-end users will increase at a rate of 50 percent per year. On a related note, Seagate’s former vice president of research Mark Kryder estimated in 2009 that a 2.5-inch disk drive could store 40 terabytes of data and cost roughly $40 by 2020. If these trends were to continue, the costs associated with running a full bitcoin node could avoid reaching astronomical levels as the bitcoin network continued to grow.
Hoping to increase the block size by June
Of course, the big debate around scaling bitcoin in recent months has revolved around increasing the block size. When discussing the difficulties with gaining consensus among the core bitcoin development team, Andresen let it be known that he’s getting closer to scheduling a hardfork for the purpose of increasing the block size in an upcoming release of Bitcoin Core:
“I’m actually, right now, working on just getting consensus among the five, what I call, core developers — the five developers who have push access to the git code. I think I’m getting close to convincing them that we have a plan that will work. I’m probably going to have to write some more code . . . I think we have a year to eighteen months. I would love the next release of bitcoin — the next major release, which will be sometime in the June timeframe — to have a scheduled hardfork to increase the block size in it. I probably won’t get there. It’ll probably be in the release after that, but we’ll see.”
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There are a variety of projects and technical solutions currently in the works when it comes to scaling bitcoin. Although there are many bitcoin skeptics and altcoin proponents who see bitcoin’s scalability issues as a deathblow to the digital currency, it appears that Gavin Andresen — the unofficial Pope of bitcoin — sees at least a few reasons to remain optimistic.
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