Bitcoin, the original virtual currency, is being threatened by Ether, a two-year old entry into the digital currency market.
Ether operates through a platform known as Ethereum. According to The New York Times, it has been gaining support from both tech geeks and big corporations like JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft. Investors are particularly drawn to Ethereum’s goal of providing not only a digital currency, but also a new type of global computing network that generally requires Ether to use.
While Bitcoin has doubled its price since the start of the year, the value of Ether has risen an astounding 4,500% within the same time frame. Ether started the year with a value of only about 5% of that of Bitcoin. But by June, the outstanding units of Ether were worth about $34 billion, or 82% of the value of Bitcoin.
Ether is benefitting from the fact that the Bitcoin community is struggling with bitter internal divisions. It has also been tainted by its association with online drug sales and hackers demanding ransom. In a recent survey of 1,100 virtual currency users, 94% were positive about the state of Ether, while only 49% were positive about Bitcoin.
“The momentum has shifted to Ethereum—there is no doubt about that,” said William Mougayar, the founder of Virtual Capital Ventures, which invests in a variety of virtual currencies and startups.
Investors believe that people will want to use Ethereum’s network computing capabilities but will need the currency in order to do so. Bitcoin, on the other hand, has made inroads into mainstream commerce, with companies like Overstock.com and Expedia accepting Bitcoin for purchases, along with the black market operators who use the currency.
The gains that Ether and Bitcoin have experienced have taken a quirky fringe experiment into the realm of big money. The New York Times reports that the combined value of Ether and Bitcoin is now worth more than PayPal and is even approaching the size of Goldman Sachs.
“I hope this is the year where we start to close the gap between the speculative value and the actual value,” Mr. Mougayar said. “There is a lot at stake right now.”