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The Lightning Network is on a tear.
Bitcoin’s layer-2 scaling solution the Lightning Network achieved impressive growth, according a report published today by Bitcoin financial services company River Financial. Among the impressive figures: routed transactions have skyrocketed from 503,115 in August 2021 to 6,599,553 in August 2023, representing near-vertical growth of 1,212%.
Routed transactions are transactions that involve more than two nodes, which means that the aforementioned numbers could be much higher, as pointed out by Sam Wouters, research analyst for River and author of today’s report, who said the figures “come as a shock.” So much so, that he had to run the numbers “many times,” validating the calculations with external parties.
The Lightning Network is a layer-2 built on top of the Bitcoin network. In other words, it’s separate from the main chain but interacts with it. LN, as it is commonly referred to on social media, is made up of an architecture of channels that allows people or companies to move money between one another without needing to use the blockchain to verify the transaction.
The Lightning Network, according to the report, has been defying Bitcoin’s generalized trend, as Google searches for the top cryptocurrency plummeted by 45% along with its price dropping 44%. Having a four-digit growth “is very significant,” wrote Wouters.
Volume on the layer-2 protocol has also surged over the same period. In August 2021, volume in terms of U.S. dollars sat at $12.1 million and 303 BTC. Fast forward to August 2021, and those numbers are now $78.8 million and 2,950 Bitcoin—translating to a 546% and 874% increase, respectively.
Another trend that Wouters said he didn’t see coming was gaming. The sector has had an outsized impact on the network’s growth rate, with hundreds of thousands of monthly active users.
Interestingly, the narrative that Bitcoin’s Lightning Network would be used for micropayments is very much alive. Today’s report indicated that 25% of all network activity happens between 1-10 sats (or $0.0002), which has mostly gone to gaming and streaming. A second 25% occurs in the 10-1,000 sat range (and is mainly related to tipping), whereas anything from 10,000 up seems to be for commerce, remittance, and node rebalancing.
Not everyone is as surprised as Wouters. The pseudonymous creator of the decentralized social media network Nostr, Fiatjaf, told Decrypt he thinks the numbers represent “natural growth,” even though the network is still very small. It was “incredibly smaller” two years ago, he said.
Fiatjaf noted that people on Nostr are doing “incredible amounts of zaps,” which could be driving the network’s success. Another factor, he explained, could be custodial wallets—a product that represents a concern for both him and Wouters.
Non-custodial solutions, or wallets that offer full self-sovereignty to users, have been slow to market in the Lightning Network. That has forced people to turn to other options, such as Wallet of Satoshi, a centralized wallet that controls the private keys.
“The aspect of the ecosystem that needs most help are non-custodial solutions,” said Wouters. He told Decrypt they still have to grapple with hard “but important” problems, although he remains hopeful investors will see his report and support the developer base working on Lightning.
Today’s report, as Wouters wrote, puts to bed the meme that “nobody uses Lightning.”