Ethereum (ETH) devs looking to delay difficulty time bomb, what could this mean?

By Samuel Wan

Last week, Ethereum devs Tim Beiko and James Hancock posted proposal 4345 to delay the difficulty time bomb until May 2022.

The difficulty time bomb refers to a process that would make Ethereum mining increasingly harder to do. The idea is to arrive at a point where mining is no longer profitable.

When that happens, the blockchain would grind to a halt as miners switch off their equipment or move their mining resources to other chains. This intends to gradually phase out miners as part of Ethereum’s switch from proof-of-work (PoW) to a proof-of-stake (PoS) network.

Throughout this transition process, the mining community has undergone a great deal of uncertainty. While ETH 2.0 is inevitable, there’s no doubt miners are happy to prolong the current situation to maximize their profit potential.

But, more to the point, what can we deduce from another proposed delay to the difficulty time bomb?

What’s the story behind the Ethereum difficulty bomb?

The London upgrade, which went live on August 5, was all about proposal 1559 – fee market change for more predictable gas fees.

However, this upgrade also contained a number of other proposals that made the cut. Those being:

EIP-3198: BASE FEE opcode
EIP-3529: Reduction in refunds
EIP-3541: Reject new contracts starting with the 0xEF byte
EIP-3554: Difficulty Bomb Delay to December 1, 2021

Under proposal 3554, the difficulty time bomb was already delayed to December when the London upgrade rolled out.

Gearing up for ETH 2.0, difficulty time bombs have been detonated twice in Ethereum’s history. Once in 2017, and more recently in November 2019 under EIP 2387.

But a reluctance to denote another time bomb suggests Ethereum devs aren’t ready to start the process of phasing out miners altogether just yet.

Under EIP 4345, the devs are looking at detonating the bomb mid-way through Q2 2022. Adding that the bomb can be readjusted (for a longer burn until mining is impossible) or removed altogether.

“Targeting for the Shanghai upgrade and/or the Merge to occur before May 2022. Either the bomb can be readjusted at that time, or removed all together.”

When is ETH 2.0 ready to roll out?

The latest info from developers ConsenSys states “the merge” is set for Q1/Q2 2022.

Making the switch to PoS involves running the ETH 1.0 and ETH 2.0 chains in parallel until some future date when both chains can be merged. This is when Ethereum ceases to be a PoW blockchain.

Some see this as the point when Ethereum 2.0 goes live. But there is an additional phase, “Shard Chains,” to improve scalability, that is set to roll out in late 2022.

However, if EIP 4345 occurs in Q2 2022, then the merge cannot happen until some date after then. This would suggest ETH 2.0 is running behind schedule.

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