Bitcoin traders may soon be able to bet on their preferred version of the blockchain.
As if a years-long debate over the network's technical roadmap wasn't dramatic enough, Tuesday could see yet another twist in bitcoin's scaling debate. That's when a group of miners and developers say they will go as far as to create an alternative network to prove bigger blocks are the best solution for increasing network capacity.
Called Bitcoin Cash (BCC), the effort will effectively fork bitcoin's existing software and transaction history, and in the process, give every bitcoin user new cryptocurrency tokens on a new blockchain with different rules.
Should users own 2 BTC, this means they'll now be able to claim 2 BCC on the Bitcoin Cash blockchain, a move that could generate millions of dollars in new value for traders.
Yet if you were expecting that sort of uncertainty to be scaring away traders, according to Ripple gateway operator Rafael Olaio, the end result is anything but. Given the creation of the new network, Olaio and others expect traders to hold steady before claiming their new funds.
He told CoinDesk:
"People want to double their coins. Nobody is selling bitcoin."
Overall, analysts offered a variety of opinions on what could develop in the days and months ahead, commenting on what they believe could be the immediate and long-term impact of the creation of a new, widely traded cryptocurrency bearing resemblance to bitcoin.
However, it's important to note that not all traders believe Bitcoin Cash will meet this definition.
Arthur Hayes, founder of crypto derivatives trading platform BitMEX, for example, noted that "theoretically" the launch of Bitcoin Cash should cause bitcoin's price to drop. Still, he questions whether this indeed will happen given that, historically, traders have not been kind to assets that have attempted to fork away from bitcoin.
"There have been many similar distributions based on bitcoin ownership that caused no such drop in price, including bitcoin clams, byteball, etc. I think the Bitcoin Cash distribution will have minimal to no impact on the bitcoin price," he said.
"I don't believe most holders expect longevity of this chain past the point at which they immediately dump their 'free money' to purchase bitcoin."
Perhaps the biggest concern among traders, however, was not how the two assets would compete given a level playing field, but what might happen if the market doesn't provide such equity.
Charles Hayter, co-founder of crypto exchange service CryptoCompare, for example, noted that he believes consumers may be misled by the option to choose between two competing coins - and he wasn't alone.
"In the long term, these two variants will cause confusion with their similar naming which no doubt will cause some problems," he said.
Marc Van der Chijs, a Dutch serial entrepreneur and VC, noted that he believes bad actors may even maliciously seek to create confusion between the two assets as a way to profit.
"I could imagine scammers selling people 'bitcoin with a discount' and then giving them BCC instead of BTC," he told CoinDesk. "Those stories will make potential retail investors even more worried about buying their first coins."
Because of issues like these, and others perhaps unforeseen, Van der Chijs said he expects the combined price of bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash to fall below $2,700, the average recent price of bitcoin as observed on the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index (BPI).
"Because of uncertainty, people may move from BTC and BCC to ETH or other coins. So, I don't think this is good for the price of bitcoin," he said.
Still, other market observers sought to stress that a bitcoin fork might be less competitive against the larger bitcoin cryptocurrency because of its entrenched network effect.
Unlike ethereum classic, which split off of an ethereum network that was less than a year into its operation, the argument goes that the BTC price will remain more robust simply because it already benefits from a wider network of stakeholders and more developed infrastructure.
"Bitcoin is more like currency, not like ethereum. A lot of infrastructure such as payment services are built and implemented in many places already," said Takao Asayama, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Zaif.
Kevin Zhou, operator of crypto hedge fund Galois Capital, responded similarly, arguing that he believes the fork will be "lopsided" in how it allocates the underlying network effect between the two competing technologies.
Still, Zhou's comments suggest he sees this as a positive, potentially enabling existing bitcoin users to align more capital with their preferred technical specifications.
"This kind of differentiation allows capital to selectively enter into either side without buying the combined package where it may not have entered," he said.
What to expect
As for what could happen now, it seems it's anyone's guess.
While miners and developers are claiming a desire to go through with the split, it's still possible that the code necessary to create the break won't be introduced at all. Others worry that if it does go through, it could usher in a period of high volatility that, while benefitting advanced traders, turns off more casual investors.
Investor Vinny Lingham, long known for his bitcoin price predictions, indicated that he'd be keeping most of his capital out of the markets ahead of what he expects will be a "turbulent few months" for the protocol.
"High risk equals high reward but also chance of portfolio damaging losses. I don't like what I'm seeing so I'm going to sit on the sidelines a bit longer," he said.
As for practical advice, Zhou, like others, stressed that traders who want to take part in any trading should withdraw their bitcoin from exchanges on the off-chance they aren't offering support for the new cryptocurrency.
While he recommended this as the fastest way to "dump BCC," the advice is still useful for bitcoin traders who want to speculate along partisan lines.
"I'd recommend getting your BTC off exchanges."
Two bitcoins image via Shutterstock