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Investing in blockchain alternatives Pt II: Nano and the block lattice

Fulfilling the promise of its whitepaper NANO was ranked the fastest of all cryptos for transaction times on Binance, but its abysmal price hasn't reflected that performance - is this really the best transaction technology?

Even in the amusement park that is cryptoland, Nano investors have been on a particularly stomach churning rollercoaster.

The cryptocurrency formerly known as Raiblocks went public in 2017 at a price of 0.0091. Since then it has been on a parabolic ride to all-time highs of $37.62 in January only to retrace over 90% of its gains to a price currently around $2.46. On news of Nano’s rebrand at the end of January, the currency briefly surged 40% in 24 hours.

nano price

Nano’s big picture

The project’s sole purpose is to be a high-performance currency, touting its “feeless, split-second transactions [as making] it the premier cryptocurrency for consumer transactions.”

In this regard it has fulfilled the promise of its whitepaper as, at the end of June, NANO was ranked the fastest of all cryptos for transaction times on Binance, with block times taking 3 seconds to confirm each transaction, ahead of Stellar Lumens (XLM) at 5 seconds and Ripple (XRP) at 10 seconds.

With an unpruned ledger size of around 2GB it is relatively small – even given the size of its network (Ethereum’s is now over 1 TB) — with the idea that low-power everyday hardware can run as nodes either with the full ledger or a pruned history containing only the last few transactions to promote decentralization.

Nano lattice vs Hashgraph

A good way to evaluate Nano’s directed-acyclical graph is via a comparison to Hashgraph, and with a cursory look at its network structure, it can be difficult to discern the difference between the two.

To understand the differences we need to understand the nuances in diagram terminology. On DAG diagrams the connections joining the circles are essentially links between transactions, whereas on the Hashgraph diagram it links the history of previous communications (the gossip about gossip) between network nodes. Also, whereas Nano is primarily focused on validating the sending and receiving of transactions, Hashgraph is focused on maintaining the correct order, or “fairness”, in which the transactions were submitted to ensure processing accuracy.

Hashgraph protocol overview diagram

In Hashgraph, the edges (or lines of connection) communicate the vertices (circles) of transactions events between the nodes (Bob, Alice etc), like synapses in the brain transmit information to neurons. The vertices (circles) on the graph are the events (information of payments) that have taken place and the information is disseminated through the gossip about gossip protocol.

Each event contains the hashes of the events below it and is digitally signed by its creator — thus cryptographically securing the graph with hashes.

NANO block lattice diagramThe vertices in NANO, on the other hand, represent the transactions and the edges or dashed lines signal the pairing of senders and receivers. In NANO each account (A,B,C) has its own blockchain on which each party to a transaction must set up a send (S) and receive (R) – a two-step process.

Transactions

Transactions in both NANO and Hashgraph are asynchronous, meaning that more than one account can transfer to the same destination account and the sender doesn’t have to wait for a response from the receiver before it can start working on other processing tasks, thereby speeding up the network. Scaling is potentially only limited by bandwidth. In June, Nano also launched its open-source mobile wallet which will make it easier for users to transact with each other off-exchange.

Although there is no mining involved in Nano, a degree of PoW is used when sending transactions to prevent spam. To make it economically unviable for a rogue entity to send thousands of false transactions, senders of Nano transactions must expend energy/money to solve a cryptographic puzzle, similar to Hashcash.

Hashgraph claims transactions per second (TPS) speeds in the hundreds of thousands, with ambitions to achieve millions. Nano on the other hand has started more conservatively with a stated speed of 7,000tps, although potential speeds are far greater than that. Nano’s whitepaper describes how it achieves instant transactions:

“Since each account has its own blockchain, updates can be performed asynchronous to the state of network. Therefore there are no block intervals and transactions can be published instantly.”

In Hashgraph each node (Bob, Alice etc) of the network has their own chain through which they pass on the packets of event information through gossip about gossip dissemination. Each member’s network should remain as a chain unless they try to spread false events, thereby creating forks, or branches on the chain.

The Nano Hashgraph hasn’t yet been tested on a public network and is a patented protocol, which to crypto puritans is synonymous with a private/permissioned network, whereas Nano is a open-source protocol currently running on over 500 public nodes. As it has yet to launch “publicly”, the number of Hashgraph nodes is unknown though it has ambitions for thousands, and eventually millions, of nodes across the world.

Network voting

The process of stakeholder voting is perhaps where both projects share the greatest similarity. Nano uses representatives (nodes) which cast votes only in the case of a fork in the network. Similar to delegated-proof-of-stake (DPoS), account holders who are unable to participate in voting for connectivity reasons can elect a representative to vote for them with the weight of their balance (NANO currency). Each account can name one representative.

With Hashgraph, stakeholders (Hashgraph coin holders who don’t run a node) can influence consensus by proxying their vote to a consensus node. The weight of that node’s vote in the consensus algorithm is proportional to their stake plus the sum of the votes proxied to them.

nano peers

blockrepresents a send, receive or open transaction. A frontierrepresents one account in a wallet. Tx/sec is the total throughput of the network, which theoretically has a capacity of 7,000tx/s max.

In Nano, a representative’s voting weight is also proportional to their own stakeholding, plus proxy votes, and the metric for a good representative is one that has high uptime and a locally-stored wallet containing accounts that other users can delegate to. Each account names one representative. Maximizing the number and diversity of Nano representatives increases the network resiliency and also its decentralization.

Governance and decentralization

Along with its recent Binance accolade, the Nano community had another big win in June when it achieved “true decentralization” in the dispersion of voting weights among its representatives, when the Nano developers stakeholding was reduced below 50%.

This was achieved when Binance, whose exchange accounts for 73% of global NANO trading liquidity, appointed its own wallet representative for its holdings (a 21.26% weightable stakeholding) thereby reducing the holding of Nano’s core team (“official representatives”) to 33%. The top three stakeholders now hold, 33% (total Nano "officials"), 21.26% (Binance) and 14.47% (Nanowallet).

nano reps

Although called “official representatives” Nano’s developers’ nodes do not have any special voting or governing rights in the network.

The Hedera Hashgraph Council, a 39-member body of corporate companies governing the Hashgraph network, will hold the majority of the stakeholding which it says is to ensure no single self-interested party can control the voting process. However, Swirlds the company which licenses Hashgraph technology, will have an indefinite tenure sitting on the council, with the rest of the members having a maximum of 2 x 3-year terms.

What blockchain devs say about DAGs

Developers of "classical" blockchains are inevitably more skeptical about graph projects. As we noted in Part I, EOS founder Dan Larimer has concerns with the validity and quality in the hundreds of thousands of transactions that Hashgraph proposes to put through per second.

Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin when asked about whether DAGs around the IOTA protocol could solve the scalability and energy consumption problems of blockchain said: "They do have some value in reducing latency. You can design systems where the latency goes down from say from Ethereum’s 14 seconds possibly to 1 second with a fairly low loss of decentralization. What they do not solve is the scalability problem. The reason why blockchain scalability is hard is because in all current designs in a blockchain all computers have to process every transaction. This applies if you’re building a blockchain, this applies if you’re building a hashgraph".

vitalik dag2At a presentation on the future of cryptocurrency at Google HQ in London last month, Cardano founder and Ethereum co-founder Charles Hoskinson was asked whether he thought Hashgraph was the next big ticket in crypto outside of his own roadmap. He was unequivocal in his rebuttal:

In terms of things like Hashgraph, you asked about that, there’s a lot of hype, guys, about DAGs and hype about 10,000 transactions or 100,000 transactions per second, and my opinion is, most of this stuff is junk, either because it’s been deployed in a very unrealistic environment or because it doesn’t have a proper trade-off profile or because the protocol was designed without any Byzantine resistance or… you know, you have Byzantine actors or the protocol fails. And I’m very skeptical… with things like IOTA, which is based on a technology called Tangle or Hashgraph, is you see a wave of hype come along. The ICO comes, pots of money get raised, and then people psychologically buy into it, and no one really bothers to check if what they’ve implemented is right or wrong. The other thing is, you don’t really need to build a system where one chain runs 100,000 or 200,000 transactions per second; to be frank, you’re doing it wrong. Because even if you have that raw processing power, how do you move all that data?

The future

Its price plunge and a class action lawsuit from the BitGrail hack notwithstanding, confidence in the Nano community got a boost in June after the latest results from Binance and with the release of the much-anticipated Nano mobile wallet. Developer activity is still relatively healthy, sitting mid-table among the currencies over 30-days according to Sanbase, though far off Ethereum and EOS at the top of the table, with scores of 508 and 211 each.

dev activity2

Despite a modest market cap, its improved decentralization, an active Github community and its utility as the fastest currency ticks a lot of criteria for a listing on the Coinbase exchange. It is also one of the few cryptocurrencies that is in full circulation, with the entire 133 million supply of coins available — which mitigates a common crypto-related risk for investors.

Without much marketing or hype Nano has quietly accomplished its stated aim and done what much more flamboyant projects have failed to do.

Follow @AndrewBNC

Following on from Part I of this series, where we made the distinction between projects built on blockchains and those on graphs (DAGs), here we look at Nano’s “lattice" graph and distinguish the difference between it and Hashgraph.


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