Broadly speaking, ICON’s competition includes 1) competing blockchain networks, particularly those that support smart contracts, and 2) other blockchain companies in Korea.

ICON’s almost single-minded focus on interoperability, however, does potentially give it an edge in its competition with other smart contract networks, especially once BTP launches in earnest. Additionally, ICON’s — and ICONLOOP’s — specializations and robust networks of private and public partnerships could allow it to thrive vis-a-vis Korean competitors, especially as Korea’s social and political climate shifts in a more crypto-friendly direction.

Smart contract competitors

In terms of users and market cap, it’s safe to say that Ethereum is the king of smart contract-based blockchain networks.

However, even a king has weaknesses that can be exploited.

In the case of Ethereum, the network has long been plagued by extravagant gas fees. This is where ICON has a competitive edge — for instance, while you might pay USD 10 in gas fees to buy an NFT on Ethereum’s OpenSea market, you’d pay just pennies in gas fees on ICON’s Craft Network. This applies across the board for both networks.

Indeed, a major selling point of ICON’s upcoming ICE expansion network is that it’s Ethereum compatible, giving developers a much cheaper alternative for their applications.

Another major “competitor” is the Polkadot ecosystem, with its many parachains. Polkadot is certainly larger — currently ranked #11 in market cap. But it is also a key BTP partner, which means in this case, bigger may be better for ICON, especially in the long run. This is particularly so because through BTP and ICE, ICON gives Polkadot users unprecedented levels of interoperability.

ICON’s biggest competitor, at least in terms of interoperability, is Cosmos. The Cosmos  Inter?Blockchain Communication protocol (IBC) operates on a similar principle as BTP, using light clients to conduct inter-chain transactions.  But whereas IBC stores its light clients in the node software, BTP stores its light clients in smart contracts, making the latter easier to integrate.

ICON also differentiates itself from Polkadot and Cosmos in that the latter two are, essentially, blockchain frameworks upon which developers must build separate application-layer blockchains.

As the ICONOGRAPER put it, “In more simple terms, these two projects offer a framework, but they don’t support smart contracts themselves. You can’t technically “build” on Polkadot or Cosmos (but you can build on their interconnected chains or launch your own application-specific chain).”

ICON, on the other hand, supports smart contracts right out of the box.

Solana, too, has an interoperability solution, Wormhole, that bridges blockchain networks by relaying messages across connected chains akin to BTP.

Unlike BTP, however, Wormhole is a trust-based solution in which “guardians” — a handpicked group of Solana node validators — sign off on relayed messages. BTP, on the other hand, is a completely trust-less solution requiring no approval by intervening third parties. Wormhole has also demonstrated security issues in the recent past — on Feb. 2, 2002, hackers exploited the protocol to steal more than USD 320 million.

RenBridge, another promising blockchain promising interoperability, has a similar trust-based solution dependent on validators for cross-chain transactions.

Korean blockchains

One of Korea’s most prominent blockchain companies is Ground X, the blockchain subsidiary of Korean internet giant Kakao. As part of the Kakao group, Ground X has significant financial backing, a sizable DApp community and some impressive collaborations — most notably, serving as provider for CBDC blockchain simulations by the Bank of Korea.

That said, Ground X is simply a cog in a much larger machine — a machine that, like fellow big tech players in the United States and elsewhere, is not without questions regarding privacy, data usage and the like.

ICON and ICONLOOP, on the other hand, are dedicated blockchain entities. For them, blockchain is their alpha and omega. They are not simply pieces in a larger corporate portfolio.

Blocko, the maker of the Aergo open-source enterprise blockchain platform, is backed by Samsung, and has an impressive list of major Korean corporate clients, including Lotte Card and Hyundai Motor. However, the company’s chief focus is on enterprise solutions, and the native cryptocurrency of the Aergo network has a market cap of just under USD 43 million, or #396 in the world.