Ethereum is one of the world’s biggest blockchain networks, with plenty to say in its favor.
Still, there are plenty of alternatives to Ethereum out there, including the ICON network. Ethereum and ICON are both robust smart contract-based blockchain networks with thriving ecosystems and passionate communities. While Ethereum might be bigger, we believe there are some things that ICON simply does better.
In this post, we’ll look at three reasons why ICON makes a great Ethereum alternative, including:
- Fees: ICON is so much cheaper than Ethereum.
- Speed: ICON’s blazing fast speed is a welcome contrast to Ethereum’s notorious lags.
- Language: ICON is written in Java, letting developers build with what they already know.
We’ll also look at one reason they might be similar:
- Interoperability: With all of its bridges and side chains, Ethereum does boast significant interoperability. But ICON’s upcoming “BTP” technology will give the network unparalleled cross-chain interoperability.
This is where ICON really shines compared to Ethereum. The big knock on Ethereum has long been its high — and sometimes very high — transaction fees. Transaction fees on Ethereum can fluctuate wildly depending on traffic, but between January of 2021 and May of 2022, the average transaction fee was about USD 40, and on May 1, 2022, it hit nearly USD 200 (thanks, BAYC).
Now, in recent months, Ethereum fees have come down significantly, in large part due to market conditions, especially in Ethereum’s NFT sector. Still, the average Ethereum transaction fee was over USD 2 as of the time of writing. Moreover, the recent “Merge,” in which Ethereum switched from a very un-green PoW consensus algorithm to a much more environmentally friendly PoS consensus algorithm (like ICON), is unlikely to bring those fees down for the time being.
ICON, meanwhile, has transaction fees that are almost negligible — less than a penny. We recently purchased and minted NFTs on ICON’s Craft Network marketplace, and paid almost nothing in fees.
This makes ICON a very attractive alternative for both developers and users looking for a cheaper network for services. This is especially so as ICON’s ICE/SNOW extension network, which is compatible with the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), gets underway, providing projects with a place to migrate their DApps and services built with Solidity, Ethereum’s smart contract language.
Speed and Scalability
This is another place where ICON trounces Ethereum.
In recent months, Ethreum’s block time was anywhere between 12 and 15 seconds, although this depends on the traffic on the network at the time. Granted, this is a lot faster than Bitcoin, where transactions can take up to an hour, but compared to some other blockchains out there, it’s still painfully slow.
At the heart of the problem is Ethereum’s limited scalability. Ethereum can handle only 10 to 30 transactions per second, causing a great deal of network congestion, particular when usage is high. Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin says the network aims to eventually process 100,000 transactions per second by the end of its post-Merge roadmap.
And perhaps it will. But it’s not there yet, and that presents a real barrier to application building and use cases, including games and metaverse projects that require faster speeds.
ICON, meanwhile, has transaction speeds of just two seconds, and can process 9,000 transactions per second. That’s very fast and highly scalable, and compares favorably to other leading blockchain networks. If you’re building games or other products that require real-time transactions, ICON is the network for you.
Ethereum’s smart contracts run on Solidity, the network’s primary programming language. Solidity is a high-level, object-oriented programming (OOP) language that allows developers to build using a similar syntax to c++.. It’s relatively easy to learn, but even if you have previous programming experience, it will still take anywhere from one to six months to learn it.
In contrast, ICON supports smart contract development in Java. Like Solidity, it’s a high-level, object-oriented programming (OOP) language. But unlike Solidity, it’s one of the most popular programming languages in the world — in fact, No. 3 according to the authoritative TIOBE Programming Community index. If you’re a developer reading this, chances are, you already know it. This means you can dive right into building on ICON, without going through the time and hassle of learning a separate language.
However, note that both languages, like almost every language built for a smart contract environment, have unique implications that relate cost to runtime. In the case of Solidity or of ICON’s flavor of Java, a developer should study a little bit about how to make an efficient loop or where to place objects in memory for the specific execution environment. This will make for a significantly better development experience in both the short and long term.
While it’s probably safe to say that cross-chain interoperability has not been a priority for Ethereum, it nonetheless boasts significant interoperability thanks to its community of L2 side chains and the many bridging solutions that are available.
The bad news is that bridging solutions are a favorite target of hackers. In June, Horizon Bridge — which bridges Ethereum and Ethereum — was hacked for USD 100 million. And that wasn’t all:
“It’s the latest in a string of hacks against protocols, bridges and projects, including a $20 million theft from Ethereum scaling solution Optimism earlier this month and a $320 million hack against Solana bridge Wormhole in February. Ethereum-linked sidechain Ronin Network — used for blockchain game Axie Infinity — also suffered a hack in April with a whopping $620 million stolen.”
ICON, meanwhile, was founded with interoperability as its highest value. ICON’s core interoperability technology is the Blockchain Transmission Protocol (BTP), a chain-agnostic, scalable, and secure interoperability protocol that can be integrated with any smart contract-enabled blockchain. Development of BTP is well underway and can already be seen in early use with the ICON Bridge product.
BTP is a completely decentralized “trustless” solution that requires no wardens to “sign off” on transactions, making it much more secure.
It also promises to be easy to integrate. Connected blockchains need not share similar SDKs or architecture. If the blockchain supports smart contracts, it can integrate BTP. Indeed, major blockchain networks like BNB Smart Chain, NEAR, Algorand and Moonbeam are doing just that.
The BTP-enabled ICE/SNOW network, an ICON extension network, takes interoperability even further by connecting ICON with the growing Polkadot ecosystem.
All this means that when you build on ICON, you’re building not just for one blockchain network. You’re building for communities across many blockchain networks.
In Part II, we’ll be comparing the DApp and service ecosystem of the two networks.