Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin may seem to be the fad that keeps coming back every year or so, but a new study finds they may be much bigger than previously thought. Even before the price of Bitcoin hit new record highs in recent weeks, a landmark study out of the University of Cambridge found that cryptocurrencies are actively used by three times as many people compared to other estimates.
The Global Cryptocurrency Benchmarking Study released this month is based on data collected between September 2016 and January 2017. It puts the estimated number of unique active cryptocurrency wallet users at between 2.9 million and 5.8 million.
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The nature of cryptocurrency can make it difficult to perform any sort of reliable census of users. A 2015 report from Juniper Research put the total user base at 1.3 million, but the new Cambridge report claims to provide some of the first hard data on the size of the industry.
The study is based on data gathered from over 100 cryptocurrency companies in 38 countries, providing a snapshot of an estimated 75 percent of all cryptocurrency activity.
"Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin have been seen by some as merely a passing fad or insignificant, but that view is increasingly at odds with the data we are observing," says co-author Dr. Garrick Hileman at Cambridge Judge Business School.
Other notable findings include the growth of new cryptocurrency Ether that is largely responsible for a dip in Bitcoin's dominance, which is down to 72 percent of the total cryptocurrency market from 86 percent just two years ago. It also finds that China and the United States dominate when it comes to the origin of much of the currency that is "mined" via a processor-intensive number-crunching process.
"Currently, the combined market value of all cryptocurrencies is nearly $40 billion, which represents a level of value creation on the order of Silicon Valley success stories like Airbnb," Dr. Hileman says in a foreword to the study.
Despite all that value, cryptocurrencies aren't making much of a dent when it comes to creating jobs. The study finds just a few thousand people are employed full-time in the industry.