As DeFi Deflates, Ethereum Users Get Reprieve From Soaring Fees, Congestion

The popularity of decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges had backed up the Ethereum blockchain, raising questions about its ability to scale.

AccessTimeIconOct 7, 2020 at 8:20 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:05 a.m. UTC

A slowdown in cryptocurrency trading on so-called decentralized exchanges has helped to alleviate congestion on the Ethereum blockchain, at least temporarily mitigating concerns that the network was becoming overloaded.

The trading lull comes as prices tumble for many of the hottest tokens from the fast-growing arena of decentralized finance, or DeFi. SushiSwap's SUSHI token, one of this year’s splashiest debuts, has fallen by 77% in the past 30 days, while the DeFi lender Compound’s COMP tokens have lost 37%.

On Uniswap, the biggest decentralized exchange, or DEX, daily trading volumes have crashed to $224 million, versus a record high of $954 million on Sept. 1. 

"Low volatility in the crypto market as a whole has contributed to lower transaction volume and costs," said Connor Abendschein, a crypto research analyst at Digital Assets Data.

Read More: What Is Yield Farming? The Rocket Fuel of DeFi, Explained

DeFi, a subsector of the cryptocurrency industry where entrepreneurs are developing semi-automated trading and lending platforms atop blockchain networks, had surged in popularity in recent months among investors and traders alike. But the resulting congestion had raised concerns that elevated fees for sending transactions over the blockchain might stymie some users, or push application developers to consider alternative networks.

Total collateral locked into DeFi platforms jumped to a record $11.2 billion in September, from below $2 billion at the end of June, according to the data website DeFi Pulse. The amount has since subsided to about $10 billion. 

Daily transactions on Ethereum blockchain.
Daily transactions on Ethereum blockchain.

The pullback has contributed to a drop in Ethereum's daily transaction count to 1.3 million from about 980,000 over the past 2.5 weeks. 

And with less traffic on the second-largest blockchain network, congestion has dropped, helping to reduce fee rates that had jumped as users paid up for priority transaction processing. 

The average cost of executing a transaction on Ethereum's blockchain has dropped to just above $2, from a record $14.58 on Sept. 2, according to the data firm Glassnode. The rate is still well above the 8-cent level that prevailed around the start of this year. 

"Transaction fees on Ethereum are slowly returning to normal as the DeFi hype that gripped the market for most of 2020 is subsiding," Nicholas Pelecanos, head of trading at NEM Group, told CoinDesk in a LinkedIn chat.

According to Digital Asset Data’s Abendschein, the relief could prove only temporary for Ethereum users, since fees could quickly shoot back up if a new DeFi protocol emerges or prices rally for ether, the blockchain network’s native token. 

The second-largest cryptocurrency by market value is currently trading at $340, well off of its two-year high of $480 on Sept. 1.

Average fees for processing a transaction on Ethereum blockchain, in U.S. dollars.
Average fees for processing a transaction on Ethereum blockchain, in U.S. dollars.


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