The price of a Bitcoin broke $4,000 this month. It’s up 400% in 2017, and only two years ago it stood at around $230. With 16.5 million Bitcoins in “circulation,” and the potential for 4.5 million more, the market value of Bitcoin is now a whopping $72 billion. Sister currency Ethereum is worth another $32 billion.
Early Snapchat investor Jeremy Liew thinks Bitcoin will reach $500,000 by 2030. Tech eccentric John McAfee believes it’ll take only three years. That’s $1 trillion of digital coins. Now companies with an idea for applications built on top of these currencies are raising hundreds of millions through initial coin offerings. Is Bitcoin the greatest rocket ship ever or will it end up a giant smoking hole in the ground?
In its simplest form, Bitcoin enables financial-transaction services on a peer-to-peer network that no one controls. Decentralized and anonymous, it uses an innovative software structure known as the blockchain to store a public ledger across an ever-growing network of servers. Unlike Visa or Mastercard , no single company buys computers. Instead, an ingenious incentive system pays entrepreneurs fees and rewards in a made-up currency to add servers to run the intense math of cryptography algorithms. Many sit in places where electricity is cheap, like Iceland, to minimize operating costs. This blockchain is the future and the path for decentralized innovation to roll out on the cheap.
And how does one value Bitcoins? Those who own them believe they are a currency or an asset like gold, valued for its scarcity. Others like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service view them as a security to be regulated and taxed.
But Bitcoin is actually a business. It’s software as a service—transactions for a price, like credit cards. To record a transaction on the blockchain, a customer pays an average recommended fee of 450 satoshi per byte. (A satoshi is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin.) Miners also get bitcoin rewards for adding blocks to expand capacity. Around 1,700 bitcoins are paid daily in rewards. But business-wise, this is more like being paid in equity. Each day sees about $1 million in fees and $7 million in rewards.