In the weeks preceding the release of the Ethereum's production-ready software implementation 'Homestead', the next-generation blockchain project has seen a sharp increase interest from the digital currency community.
According to figures from industry data source Coinmarketcap, the market cap for ether (ETH), the platform's publicly traded token, has risen to more than $1bn at press time, up from $768m on 7th March. During this time, the value of ETH has climbed to $13.55 across exchanges, rising from $9.92 one week prior.
Still, the value is a far cry from the $2.50 observed on 7th August, 2015, when digital currency exchange Kraken announced it would be the first major venture-backed business to offering ether trading pairs. Some 5,000 ETH were traded over the course of the first day.
At the time of Kraken's announcement, Bitfinex indicated it was "not considering" support for ETH trading, but that it would potentially add the coin should it become more widely traded. However, Bitfinex officially added trading on 12th March.
Bitfinex director of community Zane Tackett indicated that it began to consider adding ether trading pairs in late February, and that it was spurred on by the fact that the exchange had previously taken steps to support ether on its API and trading engine.
Tackett told CoinDesk:
"You can definitely see there's a demand there for trading Ethereum. We couldn't really miss what was happening with the volume. That was a large basis for our decision. It's higher than any other [alternative digital currency] has ever gotten."
During the first five hours of trading, Bitfinex had already processed more than 44,200 or nearly $600,000 in volume for its ETH/USD and ETH/BTC trading pairs.
By contrast, Poloniex, the largest ethereum exchange, was reporting 2.6m ETH traded, or about $35m in total volume, over the previous 24-hour period.
The decision further comes in anticipation of the release of 'Homestead', expected to take place on 14th March at block 1,150,000. The open, public blockchain has been previously lauded for its ambitious design and support for self-executing smart contracts, with developers likening Ethereum to a "decentralized world computer".
Despite high demand, Bitfinex sought to distance itself from the idea that Ethereum would perhaps become a tradeable digital asset that would rival bitcoin, in part, due to the fact that the exchange recognizes it's not meant to act as a store of value.
Tackett told CoinDesk that, while the exchange's decision was a "validation of the demand to trade ether", the exchange has adopted a wait-and-see approach to the market.
"I think that, in that regard [the trading of ETH] is kind of funny. The founders of Ethereum have said that its primary purpose isn't a store of value, so I find it interesting that people latch onto it," Tackett said.
In particular, he cited statements from Ethereum inventor Vitalik Buterin, that describe the project as about applications "first and foremost".
"Ether is there simply as a token to facilitate payment of transaction fees and incentivize mining," Buterin has said on Reddit.
Tackett took steps to maintain that Bitfinex is still a "bitcoin company first" despite the addition of ether, noting that it sees days where as much as 295,000 BTC is traded on its platform. Still, he suggested it could have interesting attributes for traders in addition to the "insane speculation" that he said sometimes characterizes the digital currency markets.
"Ethereum's [meant to be] inflationary, bitcoin is deflationary, there is a difference. It's also proof of stake versus proof of work. But it's still young, whereas bitcoin's been around a lot longer. It's been through speculative bubbles," he said.
ETH market develops
Despite this larger argument, at bitcoin exchange Kraken, enthusiasm for Ether appeared similarly high, with its trading totals mirroring those at Bitfinex.
The exchange's ETH/USD trading pair had observed $91,000 in 24-hour volume, while its ETH/EUR pair had seen roughly 239,000 euros ($265,000) in trades.
Speaking to CoinDesk in August, Kraken CEO Jesse Powell expressed a general optimism for the Ethereum project and its potential as a reason for the support of ether trading.
"[Pairs we add] have either got to be very interesting, be innovative and have a strong development community, and I think Ethereum meets all of those," he said.
Larger traders, it seems, were taking a similar approach, observing developments in the market and waiting for a "critical mass" that would indicate the ETH market is mature and liquid.
Bitfinex has suggested it is now doing the same, and that it plans to hold off on adding ETH margin trading until such time as its order book garners significant depth.
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated Bitfinex sees trading volume of $295,000 in bitcoin. This has been revised to 295,000 BTC.
Trading image via Shutterstock