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Bitcoin’s Big Problem: Transaction Delays Renew Blockchain Debate

ibtimes.com / DAVID GILBERT / 03/04/16 AT 6:03 AM

Bitcoin is facing a major problem as the time it takes transactions to be processed has increased dramatically leading businesses to stop accepting the cryptocurrency and others to issue warnings that the problems could be terminal.

The problem is not something that has come out of the blue with those within the bitcoin community as well as researchers pointing to this looming issue for some time. The problem relates to how transactions are processed on the blockchain, the decentralized, distributed ledger technology that underpins bitcoin.

The average time it takes for a bitcoin transaction to be verified is now 43 minutes, and some transactions remain unverified forever. Some of the problem stems from the fact that anyone can add a fee to every bitcoin transaction, which bumps that transaction up in the queue, meaning that those who didn’t pay such a fee — or didn’t pay a sufficiently big fee — may be waiting hours and sometimes even days for a transaction to complete.

This is how it works. When someone uses bitcoin to pay for an item in a shop, that transaction needs to be verified on the blockchain. This is done by what are known as miners, individuals or groups who use massive computing power to solve increasingly complex mathematical equations to mine new bitcoins, which come in “blocks” and are mined about every 10 minutes. These blocks are used to record all transactions made on the bitcoin network, and have a maximum size of 1 megabyte (MB), meaning they can record just seven transactions per second at most.

To put this in context, Visa says its payment system processes 2,000 transactions per second on average and can handle up to 56,000 transactions per second if needed.

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