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Bitcoin Usage Mirrors Internet in 1999 – But Does That Mean It Will Become Ubiquitous?

Last Updated May 16, 2024 2:57 PM
James Morales
Last Updated May 16, 2024 2:57 PM
By James Morales
Verified by Peter Henn

Key Takeaways

  • Bitcoin is nearly as old as the internet was in 1999.
  • There are currently around 460 million Bitcoin addresses and in 1999, there were approximately 360 million internet users.
  • However, there are important caveats to the comparison.

If Bitcoin is following the same growth rate as the internet, observers have suggested we are currently in 1999.

Sixteen years after ARPANET implemented the TCP/IP protocol suite, internet adoption accelerated rapidly toward the end of the 20th century. Now, as BTC approaches its 16th birthday, are we are witnessing a similar growth curve?

Comparing Bitcoin and Internet Adoption

Globally, it is estimated that around 5.44 billion people currently use the internet, equivalent to 67% of the world’s total population. In contrast, there are just 460 million Bitcoin addresses, of which 90% hold BTC worth less than a dollar.

Counting only the 10% of wallets that hold a significant amount of currency, that means less than 0.6% of the global population currently own Bitcoin.

Based on this summary of the numbers, Bitcoin adoption is lower than internet usage at this point in its its history, when 360 million people were already online.

But that hasn’t stopped pundits from drawing a comparison between the two technologies.

The narrative has been picked up by Bitcoin advocates like Block Rewards CEO Scott Dedels, who has suggested  the cryptocurrency could eclipse fiat money within 30 years.

A similar observation has been made by the crypto analyst Willy Woo. However, his reasoning is based on the flawed logic that the number of Bitcoin addresses is equal to the number of owners.  

Why BTC isn’t Like the Internet

While the comparison is enticing, there are important differences between Bitcoin and the Internet.

As long as Bitcoin is treated only as an investment asset, the total addressable market isn’t the eight billion humans who might need to communicate with each other remotely, but the much smaller group of people who have savings to invest.

However, crypto adoption could accelerate dramatically if Bitcoin becomes favored as a payment currency. 

Investment vs. Payments

Although Bitcoin was originally conceived as a peer-to-peer payment system, it is still rare for merchants to accept BTC. But things could be changing.

According to data  from BTCMap, the number of businesses that accept Bitcoin tripled in 2023.

Thanks to the Bitcoin Lightning Network and more seamless crypto-to-fiat exchange mechanisms, BTC payments may finally be gaining traction. 

Ultimately, if Bitcoin is to become ubiquitous, it won’t be as a form of “digital gold” hoarded by investors. It will be as a medium of exchange that can actually be used to buy products and services in an open marketplace.

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