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A ‘Significant' Upgrade to Ethereum Activated Today That Will Impact Its Supply—Here's What Crypto Investors Should Know

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A major upgrade to Ethereum, the blockchain that runs ether, the second-largest cryptocurrency under bitcoin, activated on Thursday.

On the news, the price of ether jumped. It is trading at around $2,630 as of Thursday morning.

The upgrade, called London, includes Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 1559, which aims to change the way transaction fees, or "gas fees," are estimated.

Currently, users must bid for how much they're willing to pay to have their ether transaction picked up by a miner, which can be extremely costly. Under EIP-1559, this process will be handled by an automated bidding system with a set fee amount that fluctuates based on how congested the network is.

"This is great for Ethereum casual users and makes the protocol less intimidating to use," Eric Conner, a co-author of EIP-1559 and co-founder of EthHub, tells CNBC Make It.

Another major change under EIP-1559 is that part of every transaction fee will be burned, or removed from circulation, which will begin to reduce the supply of ether and potentially boost its price.

That's why, in part, "EIP-1559 is one of the most significant upgrades to Ethereum since the network's launch," says Meltem Demirors, CoinShares chief strategy officer.

Here's what investors should know.

What EIP-1559 means for investors

While EIP-1559 aims to strengthen the ecosystem of Ethereum ⁠— which is known for its smart contract capabilities that power DeFi, or decentralized finance, apps and NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, among other things ⁠— it isn't likely that there will be much short-term impact on investors, Demirors says.

Long-term, however, the proposal's co-authors hope to make ether deflationary by reducing the supply. This would be "extremely beneficial" for investors, Conner says, especially "with all the recent talk of inflation in the United States." It would give crypto investors an option to hold a deflationary asset.

But the EIP-1559 proposal alone will not make ether deflationary, Demirors says.

"Many of these expectations are likely too optimistic in the short-term, and will become more material in the long-term," she says. That's because "the nominal amount of gas burned won't outpace network inflation."

EIP-1559 also wouldn't lower gas fee prices or the cost of transactions on the network, which can be very high.

Still, the upgrade is important since it has the potential to improve Ethereum's user experience and may boost the price of ether.

Other innovations surrounding Ethereum are in the works as well, Demirors says. That includes the planned migration from a proof of work (PoW) model to a proof of stake (PoS) model later this year or early 2022.

Under the PoS model, a person can mine or validate transactions according to how many coins they hold. In a PoW model, miners must compete to solve complex puzzles in order to validate transactions. Supporters of the PoS model say it will use less energy and better the blockchain's efficiency.

"Taken together, EIP-1559 and the move to PoS will have a major impact on miners and the economics of Ethereum," Demirors says, "but at the moment, the upgrade alone does not."

Overall, "I think the most important thing that EIP-1559 shows to investors is that Ethereum is still an actively developed project which refuses to stagnate and become obsolete," Conner says.

This story has been updated with the price of ether.

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