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What is Thunder?

The ThunderNetwork is a way to send money “off-chain” to other parties in a trustless manner based on the lightning.network. The lightning.network is a P2P network between thousands of nodes that builds payment channels. Using 10 random nodes at a time, these payment channels create a large network-like mesh.

What are the main benefits? ELI5 (Explain like I’m five).

Perhaps the most exciting part of the ThunderNetwork is the ability to make live, nearly instant, and ultra-cheap transactions that settle back to the Bitcoin blockchain. We have a lot of work to finish first, but the promise of faster and more affordable payments at scale is the mission.

Is Thunder a fully finished product?

No – and therein lies its power and beauty. Others actively working on similar research and development are innovating based on market assumptions. We believe in a ‘launch and learn’ approach that embraces piloting with a functioning product at the nexus of development. This approach has allowed us to mature this technology far beyond anything that exists currently and, going forward, will allow us to make product improvements faster and more in line with user needs. Sometimes you need to prove a concept works.

How can I help?

Head over to the GitHub and review the project, send us your feedback, or if you feel very generous, make a pull request. If you want to work on tech like this full time, head here and join our team.

What does Alpha mean?

It means that we wanted to get this out into the world, but it isn’t ready for production use yet. It’s time to test, review, and develop.

Does this solve Bitcoin’s scaling issues?

The reality is, it’s hard to predict how systems will work in the wild. Security and usability are real challenges with these types of networks. Adoption is another challenge as it can take time to convince consumers to accept and trust new technologies. In general, we are more excited for Thunder to power new use cases for payments - things like micropayments, machine payments, and other new use cases, than for it to replace main chain bitcoin transactions.

What impacts could this have on decentralization?

It’s really hard to forecast the economics and topology of new systems. On one hand, this type of technology could lead to more nodes, more users, and more transaction volume (all good things!). On the other hand, due to capital requirements for nodes, it could give an advantage to large companies that would have a centralizing effect. We’re going to work hard to bring balance here, always keeping usability and decentralization as tenants of our design.

What significant challenges remain?

Many! We will need to recreate a lot of existing infrastructure to use this new network. We also have to make the system resilient against various kinds of attacks. The bar for financial software is very high and we need more testing coverage. Furthermore, Thunder needs to be ported into various languages to be implemented in all kind of systems. Finally, we need to create new applications that serve the new requirements, such as suggesting efficient routes and keeping the network in a healthy state. As you can see, there’s a lot to do. One of the largest challenges that remains, however, is the need for a user to come online at least once within a defined interval (say a week for example). This allows the user to monitor the health of network and safeguard against fund theft, but it isn’t very practical for many users. While it’s possible this could be outsourced to a third party, it highlights how much still needs to be done on all fronts.

When will the Blockchain Wallet use Thunder Network?

Much of the timing depends on upgrades to the Bitcoin protocol. At this time we’re estimating it will take roughly another 12 months, once you factor in network upgrades and burn in. However, once the technology is deployed, the long process of user adoption just begins.