Contributor, Benzinga
March 21, 2024

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Ethereum, a decentralized blockchain platform, is known for its cryptocurrency, Ether (ETH) and smart contract capabilities. With a market capitalization of $385.3 billion as of March 20, 2024, ETH is the second most valuable crypto in the market. It’s just gone through a Dencun upgrade that promises enhanced scalability and reduced transaction costs. This upgrade marks a significant milestone in Ethereum’s evolution, reinforcing its leading position in the crypto landscape. So, what is Ethereum?

Learn more about this innovative blockchain, its use cases and what makes it the cornerstone of the digital currency ecosystem.

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What is Ethereum?

Ethereum is a decentralized blockchain platform that enables the creation of smart contracts and decentralized applications (DApps). It was proposed in late 2013 by Vitalik Buterin, a programmer and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine and development was crowdfunded in 2014. Ethereum went live on July 30, 2015.

The platform is powered by its native cryptocurrency, Ether (ETH), which is used to pay for transaction fees and computational services on the Ethereum network. Ethereum’s key innovation is its smart contract functionality, which allows for the execution of code exactly as programmed without censorship or third-party interference.

Ethereum extends the utility of blockchains from simply keeping a record of financial transaction entries to running complex dApps that can have a wide range of uses across different sectors, including finance, healthcare and the arts.

Ether is distinct from Ethereum, which is the blockchain platform itself, while Ether is the cryptocurrency that powers the platform. Think of Ethereum as the digital infrastructure and Ether as the fuel that powers that infrastructure. Ether is used as a form of payment to incentivize participants to maintain the network. It is also used by developers and users to interact with smart contracts and dApps on the Ethereum platform.

How Does Ethereum Work?

At the heart of Ethereum are smart contracts which are programmable agreements that automatically execute when predefined conditions are met, without needing any intermediaries. These self-executing contracts enable a trustless system wherein parties to a transaction have no fear that one party might fail to fulfill its promises. The smart contracts are written into lines of code that exist on the Ethereum blockchain.

The Ethereum blockchain is a public ledger that records all transactions and smart contract executions. It's maintained by a network of nodes (computers) that validate and store the history of all activities on the Ethereum network. Data stored on the blockchain cannot be altered which ensures transparency and immutability — two vital characteristics of blockchain technology. However, the blockchain requires a system — a consensus mechanism, that ensures all participants agree on the validity of transactions and the current state of the distributed ledger.

Ethereum initially relied on a proof-of-work (PoW) consensus mechanism, a process in which miners solved intricate mathematical problems to verify transactions and generate new blocks. However, Ethereum has significantly transformed, transitioning to a proof-of-stake (PoS) system. In this new model, validators stake their Ether to propose and validate new blocks. By moving away from the resource-intensive PoW method, Ethereum aims to create a more sustainable and efficient blockchain network. This shift not only reduces environmental impact but also enhances scalability, making Ethereum more adaptable to a wider array of applications and users.

The Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) serves as the operational backbone for smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain. It functions as a decentralized virtual environment, executing the code of these contracts. Its primary role is to guarantee that smart contracts operate precisely as intended, free from interruptions, manipulation or external interference.

Ether (ETH) is the native cryptocurrency powering the Ethereum network. Its primary functions include compensating validators for their computational efforts in validating transactions, as well as covering transaction fees and accessing various services on the network.

Ethereum Use Cases and Applications

Ethereum’s flexibility and functionality have led to the development of various applications, including decentralized finance (DeFi) platforms, initial coin offerings (ICOs), GameFi and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), making it a foundational technology in the blockchain ecosystem.

  • Decentralized finance (DeFi): DeFi leverages smart contracts to provide financial services like loans, savings, insurance and trading, circumventing traditional financial intermediaries.
  • Digital identity: Ethereum offers secure and immutable digital identity solutions, potentially supplanting conventional IDs like passports.
  • Tokenizing real-world assets: Security tokens on Ethereum represent tangible assets like stocks or real estate, streamlining their transfer and trading processes.
  • Health applications: Ethereum's transparency and security features hold the potential to transform healthcare by enhancing data sharing and safeguarding patient privacy.
  • Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs): DAOs function autonomously without central authorities, leveraging smart contracts for more efficient governance and decision-making.
  • Non-fungible tokens (NFTs): Ethereum supports NFTs, which represent ownership of unique digital items and assets on the blockchain. They facilitate trading these assets by proving ownership and provenance through a transparent and immutable ledger.
  • Supply chain management: Ethereum can improve supply chain transparency and traceability, ensuring the authenticity of products throughout their lifecycle.

Ethereum vs. Bitcoin

Ethereum and Bitcoin are both prominent blockchain platforms, but they serve different purposes and operate on distinct principles. Bitcoin is commonly regarded as digital gold, whereas Ethereum is likened to a decentralized computing network. Ethereum's capacity to accommodate smart contracts and dApps enables a more diverse array of applications beyond basic transactions. Here’s a comparison:

  • Purpose: Bitcoin was conceived as a digital alternative to traditional currencies to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions without the intervention of a central authority. On the other hand, Ethereum was developed not only for financial transactions but also to enable the execution of smart contracts and dApps.
  • Functionality: Bitcoin primarily functions as a store of value and a medium of exchange. In contrast, Ethereum is a platform for constructing a broad spectrum of decentralized services, from DeFi applications to NFT marketplaces.
  • Blockchain: Bitcoin's blockchain is tailored specifically for managing financial transactions, while Ethereum's blockchain offers greater versatility and can execute complex smart contracts alongside financial transactions.
  • Consensus mechanism: Bitcoin relies on a PoW mechanism, where miners solve intricate mathematical puzzles to validate transactions and mint new blocks. Ethereum has transitioned from PoW to a PoS system with Ethereum 2.0, which is more environmentally friendly and involves validators staking ETH to validate transactions.

Pros and Cons of Ethereum

Ethereum, as a leading blockchain platform, offers several advantages but also faces some challenges. Here’s a look at the pros and cons.

Advantages of Ethereum

  • Decentralization: Ethereum functions on a global network of computers, ensuring the absence of a single point of failure.
  • Smart contracts: It empowers the execution of contracts that automatically enforce terms without the need for intermediaries.
  • Versatility: Ethereum supports a broad spectrum of decentralized applications, extending beyond basic transactions.
  • Active community: With a sizable and engaged community, Ethereum benefits from a robust ecosystem dedicated to its ongoing development.
  • Continuous improvement: Ethereum is continually evolving, which is evident in initiatives like the transition to Ethereum 2.0 to enhance its efficiency.

Disadvantages of Ethereum

  • Scalability: The current version struggles to handle high transaction volumes, although upgrades like sharding are underway to address this issue.
  • Transaction fees: Users encounter fluctuating transaction fees, particularly problematic during network congestion.
  • Complexity: Solidity, the native programming language of the Ethereum blockchain, presents a steep learning curve for new developers.
  • Competition: Ethereum faces stiff competition from other blockchains, potentially impacting its adoption and popularity.

Where to Buy Ethereum

If you’re looking to purchase Ethereum, there are several platforms and crypto exchanges where you can do so. Here are the top options:

  • Coinbase
    Best For:
    Active Crypto Traders
    securely through Coinbase's website

    Sum of median estimated savings and rewards earned, per user in 2021 across multiple Coinbase programs (excluding sweepstakes). This amount includes fee waivers from Coinbase One (excluding the subscription cost), rewards from Coinbase Card, and staking rewards. ³Crypto rewards is an optional Coinbase offer. Upon purchase of USDC, you will be automatically opted in to rewards. If you’d like to opt out or learn more about rewards, you can click here. The rewards rate is subject to change and can vary by region. Customers will be able to see the latest applicable rates directly within their accounts.

  • eToro
    Best For:
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  • Robinhood Crypto
    Best For:
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  • Plus500 Crypto
    Best For:
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  • Kraken
    Best For:
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    securely through Kraken's website

Ethereum: The Future of Decentralized Technology

Ethereum represents more than just a digital currency; it’s a vibrant ecosystem that supports decentralized applications and smart contracts, changing how people interact with the digital world. Its potential to disrupt traditional industries is immense. It offers a level of security, transparency and efficiency previously unattainable. Whether it could hit $10,000 in 2024 is anybody’s guess. Ethereum continues to evolve with upgrades like Ethereum 2.0, pushing the edge of blockchain technology and standing strong as a pillar of decentralized finance and beyond.

Disclosure: ²Sum of median estimated savings and rewards earned, per user in 2021 across multiple Coinbase programs (excluding sweepstakes). This amount includes fee waivers from Coinbase One (excluding the subscription cost), rewards from Coinbase Card, and staking rewards. ³Crypto rewards is an optional Coinbase offer. Upon purchase of USDC, you will be automatically opted in to rewards. If you’d like to opt out or learn more about rewards, you can click here. The rewards rate is subject to change and can vary by region. Customers will be able to see the latest applicable rates directly within their accounts

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Ethereum better than Bitcoin?


Whether Ethereum is better than Bitcoin depends on the user’s needs. Ethereum offers a wider array of applications owing to its smart contract capabilities. Bitcoin is primarily regarded as a digital store of value.


Is ETH a good investment?


Investing in ETH can be lucrative for individuals with a high-risk tolerance and a comprehensive understanding of the cryptocurrency market’s volatility. However, you must conduct thorough research and consider potential risks.


Why is Ethereum so valuable?


Ethereum holds significant value because it transcends being merely a cryptocurrency; it serves as a platform for decentralized applications and smart contracts, boasting a diverse range of use cases spanning from finance to digital art, which contributes to its worth.

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About Anna Yen

Anna Yen, CFA is an expert crypto writer with over two decades of professional finance and writing experience in roles within JPMorgan and UBS derivatives, asset management, crypto, and Family Money Map. She specializes in writing about alternative investment topics ranging from derivatives to cryptocurrencies. Her work has been published on sites like the crypto exchange Bybit. After six years of personal experience investing in crypto, she prefers BTC, ETH, and SOL.