Ethereum users and miners are well aware of how the mining difficulty is going up at an alarming rate. Mining Ether will eventually become virtually impossible due to the difficulty bomb. One way to counter this problem would be by switching over to proof-of-stake, which is what its developers are currently working on. However, a new EIP proposes to delay the difficulty bomb for another 18 months. This is an interesting concept, but how does it work?
Delaying the Ethereum Difficulty Bomb
On paper, it makes a lot of sense for the Ethereum developers to address the difficulty bomb soon. As the development for turning ETH into a PoS ecosystem is still underway, a temporary solution may be more than warranted. This is why there is a new Ethereum Improvement Proposal, or EIP, to address this situation before it becomes an insurmountable problem. This does not mean the switch to proof-of-stake will not happen, however.
Ethereum’s developers have been working on the Metropolis hard fork for some time now. One of the main selling points of this hard fork is how it will transition Ethereum from a proof-of-work ecosystem similar to Bitcoin into a proof-of-stake ecosystem like many altcoins today. That is a lot easier said than done, and it will require a significant rewriting of the code. This new PoS environment will also have to be properly tested before it is introduced on the live network.
Development of the proof-of-stake environment is roughly 80% done, but it might not be ready in time for the difficulty bomb. That outcome seems highly unlikely, but it never hurts to have a contingency plan in place. This is why Vitalik Buterin and Afri Schoedon have come up with an alternative solution which pushes the difficulty bomb back an additional 18 months. This extension would allow miners to continue mining Ethereum, albeit with an increasing difficulty and lower block reward to take into account.
With the average block time on the Ethereum network currently increasing due to the difficulty bomb, a countermeasure has to be implemented. The EIP in question would push back the difficulty bomb adjustment by another 3 million blocks, although that number may be changed later on. This would effectively confirm that the switch to proof-of-stake will be delayed and that proof-of-work must remain feasible for Ethereum miners. This EIP would push block times back to 30 seconds near the end of 2018.
Even though this proposal was submitted nearly a month ago, EIP 649 is still in the draft stage for now. It has not received any negative comments or remarks, indicating that the majority of developers and Ethereum community members consider it to be a good idea. They would prefer to delay the switch to proof-of-stake and continue working on the code with a larger cushion in place. Miners will not be complaining either, as lots of them recently invested in graphics cards in order to mine Ethereum. It will be interesting to see whether or not EIP 649 eventually gets merged into the Ethereum protocol.