Can Crypto Match the Internet and Hit 5B Users?

While early growth in both spaces has been eerily similar, don’t get too excited about crypto’s future.

AccessTimeIconJul 12, 2023 at 4:00 p.m. UTC
10 Years of Decentralizing the Future
May 29-31, 2024 - Austin, TexasThe biggest and most established global event for everything crypto, blockchain and Web3.Register Now

By now, many of us have seen this graph comparing internet adoption to crypto adoption.

(World Bank,
(World Bank,
  • 'The Voice' Makes Its Way to the Metaverse
    'The Voice' Makes Its Way to the Metaverse
  • Staking Has Been a Major Liquidity Sink for ETH: Coinbase Institutional
    Staking Has Been a Major Liquidity Sink for ETH: Coinbase Institutional
  • Fantom Token Jumps; Dolce & Gabbana Sued for NFT Deliveries
    Fantom Token Jumps; Dolce & Gabbana Sued for NFT Deliveries
  • What's the Key to Winning a Hackathon?
    What's the Key to Winning a Hackathon?
  • Crypto is adding new users at a pace so similar to the internet’s 1990s growth that it can fuel stunning forecasts for what’s ahead for digital assets.

    The internet went from basically no users in 1990 to 5 billion now – capturing 62.5% of the global population in 33 years. If crypto follows a similar curve, it would hit 5 billion users around 2047, assuming no population growth, and, say, 6 billion given predicted population growth.

    You’re reading Crypto Long & Short, our weekly newsletter featuring insights, news and analysis for the professional investor. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Wednesday.

    Before you get too excited, though, I’d argue that’s too optimistic.

    The internet is too broad for comparison. It’s used for everything in our lives. Crypto has many use cases, and there is hope for Web3, but for the average consumer, crypto is either a speculative investment or a means of transferring value.

    I recommend a bottom-up approach to analyze adoption, looking at consumer behaviors from comparable use cases.

    Consider the adoption of financial services technologies:

    • Mobile Banking: This was introduced through banking via text message in 1997 and the first mobile banking app in 2007. In 2021, McKinsey reported that among all bank customers, only 52% of North Americans, 47% of Western Europeans and 45% of Central Europeans used mobile banking. This is consistent with a 2023 Cornerstone Advisors report stating 56% of checking account holders are active mobile banking users. It’s important to note that only 76% of the global population has a bank account.
    • Stock Investing: Gallup found that 61% of Americans report owning stock and Pew Research reports only 35% of Americans own stock outside of their retirement accounts. And in-person touchpoints are important, with Chase sharing that 85% of first-time investors come from banker referrals.

    What do these numbers tell us?

    People take decades to adopt what many of us in the finance industry consider basic financial technologies. And crypto is not basic.

    Seeing that less than 50% of the world uses something as simple as mobile banking 26 years after its debut, coupled with the fact that only about a third of Americans actively invest in stocks (the New York Stock Exchange opened in 1792), should make us question crypto’s growth trajectory beyond early adopters.

    Even with population growth, crypto may struggle to reach 5 billion users by 2047. More detailed analysis is needed, but with the continued digitalization of our traditional banking system, I think a more conservative back-of-the-envelope estimate is a range of 2 billion to 3 billion users, and that’s if regulation doesn’t get in the way.

    Remember, crypto has to beat (or join) the current way of doing things, which is still advancing and still not yet fully adopted.

    Edited by Nick Baker.


    Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

    CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

    Kelly Chambers

    Kelly Chambers has over a decade of experience in traditional finance and crypto investing. He currently works with FinTechs, RIAs, and Web3 startups, providing financial content strategy and writing services through his content consultancy

    Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk's longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to to register and buy your pass now.