Vitalik Buterin says ‘more still needs to be done’ over high Ethereum txn fees

In a new blog post published on Feb. 28, Ethereum (ETH) co-founder Vitalik Buterin documented the continued need to improve the namesake network to better facilitate ETH as a means of payment. In one instance, Buterin shared how he tried to pay for tea for himself and friends at a coffee shop in Argentina in 2021, but had to pay 0.01 ETH (around $40 at the time) as that was the minimum deposit for the owner’s exchange account. “I did not mind the 3x overpayment and treated it as a tip,” the co-founder wrote. 

In another instance, Buterin explained how how he tried to pay for tea at another location in 2022, but two separate transactions failed due to requiring “extra gas to process the transfer” and a UI glitch in his mobile wallet. Furthermore, Buterin also raised the issue of unpredictable transaction times, writing:

“Many times, there has been a surprisingly long time delay between my transaction getting accepted on-chain, and the service acknowledging the transaction, even as “unconfirmed.” Some of those times, I definitely got worried that there was some glitch with the payment system on their side.”

As told by Buterin, outliers nevertheless remain on the Ethereum network despite recent improvements. “If you send a transaction at the same time as when many others are sending transactions and the base fee is spiking up, you risk the base fee going too high and your transaction not getting accepted,” he wrote. “Even worse, wallet UIs suck at showing this. There are no big red flashing alerts, and very little clear indication of what you’re supposed to do to solve this problem.” Buterin added that even experts can be confused at how to speed up transactions in such cases.

“A UI that is clean and sleek, but does some weird and unexplainable thing 0.723% of the time that causes big problems, is worse than a UI that exposes more gritty details to the user but at least makes it easier to understand what’s going on and fix any problem that does arise.”

Among other issues, Buterin raised the problem of the internet being “not 100% reliable,” and the need for possible offline proofs that customers indeed transfered their transaction data directly to the merchant. Another issue raised was “losing a small amount of BTC and ETH,” due to secret-sharing-based off-chain social recovery methods for wallets, which Buterin deemed as fragile. According to YCharts, Ethereum transaction fees have fallen to an average of $0.656 at the time of publication, which is much lower than the average of $20 witnessed during the peak of the crypto bull market in 2021.

“Along with the all-important issue of high transaction fees due to scaling not yet being fully solved, user experience is a key reason why many Ethereum users, especially in the Global South, often opt for centralized solutions instead of on-chain decentralized alternatives that keep power in the hands of the user and their friends and family or local community.”

Ethereum median waiting times of block transactions. Source: Vitalik Buterin; Yinhong Zhao, Kartik Nayak

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