Ethereum’s co-founder, Vitalik Buterin, had predicted that the Merge would happen in September.

This is not for the first time Ethereum developers have delayed the network’s “difficulty bomb”. But this time is delayed by about 100 days, which means by September 19, the network is expected to merge from its current state as a proof-of-work (PoW) blockchain to an energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) network.

“This merge timeline isn’t final, but it’s extremely exciting to see it coming together,” tweeted Beacon Chain community manager superphiz.eth. “Please regard this as a planning timeline and look out for official announcements!”

Ethereum currently uses an energy-intensive proof-of-work (PoW) mechanism to validate transactions. The difficulty bomb is an update built into the protocol that will significantly increase the complexity of PoW calculations, and therefore, the time required to process transactions – a kind of self-destruct mechanism meant to incentivize the transition to an environmentally-friendly proof-of-stake (PoS) model.

That transition, known as the Merge, has been repeatedly delayed. Postponing the difficulty bomb by 100 days – a decision that developers took last month – is an acknowledgement that the Merge will have to wait a little while longer.

This week the ETH 2.0 contract has seen a total of more than 13 million ETH deposited and there are now 406,640 validators. In time, the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain is expected to transition to a proof-of-stake (PoS) chain. Currently, the network has a hybrid system of both proof-of-work (PoW) for the main chain, and PoS for the Beacon chain. At the time of writing, the 13,012,469 ether locked into the ETH 2.0 contract is worth more than $15.8 billion using current ETH exchange rates.


What is the Ethereum difficulty bomb?

Ethereum’s ‘Difficulty Bomb’ refers to a mechanism that, at a predefined block number, increases the difficulty level of puzzles in the proof-of-work mining algorithm, resulting in longer-than-normal block times (and thus less ETH rewards for miners). The intent behind the difficulty bomb is to exponentially increase the amount of time it takes to mine a new block on the Ethereum blockchain so that it:

  • Encourages cryptocurrency miners to move away from energy-intensive proof-of-work mining by removing the incentive
  • Takes away the ability to centralize currency creation and ownership
  • Discourages blockchain forks
  • Forces node upgrades

As a result, the Ethereum community hopes that this will incentivize miners to abandon the proof-of-work model and migrate to a proof-of-stake method. In order for the Merge to take place, the release of the difficulty bomb must occur. For this to happen, Ethereum core developers must all be in agreement that enough testing has been accomplished so that The Merge can be unveiled seamlessly.


Reasons behind delaying the difficulty bomb

The Merge is a much-awaited process within the ETH network. The transition of ETH to PoS is expected to motivate more investors to buy Ethereum, which could aid in a recovery of the token. ETH has been affected by the recent bear market, with the prices dropping below US$1000 last month.

However, with the Merge now being delayed, a turnaround for ETH prices might take longer than expected. The difficulty bomb had been initially scheduled for June 29, with The Merge happening in August according to Buterin’s timeline. However, The Merge will not happen in August as the difficulty bomb has been pushed forward by 100 days.

There’s only a 1% to 10% chance that The Merge won’t happen this year, Tim Beiko, who coordinates Ethereum developers, said in a recent interview with Bloomberg.

During the Friday call, developers emphasized the difficulty bomb delay has no implications for the timing of the Merge.

Beiko, who also facilitated the Friday call, said he is worried about developer burnout if they rush to get the Merge done without delaying the difficulty bomb for a reasonable amount of time.

“If we do delay this, I think it should be a realistic delay to still maintain a sense of urgency,” Beiko said. “But too much pressure pushes teams to burn out, that’s also a situation we don’t want to be in.”

The potential delay dampens the excitement around the Merge after the developers carried out the upgrade on Ropsten on Wednesday. Since it’s one of the oldest testnet for Ethereum, Ropsten is able to provide one of the most realistic technical environments to test out the Merge, check for bugs, and evaluate the outcome of the final process.


Lack of Urgency

Developer Ben Edgington spoke up to defend a hard deadline, saying there was a lack of urgency in completing the merge.

“There are very real costs associated with not doing the merge: 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide every day,” he said. “It’s nearly a million tons a week. Every week we twiddle our thumbs, that’s a megaton of carbon dioxide we´re emitting.”