The price of Bitcoin has hit record highs in recent months, more than doubling in price since the start of the year. Despite these gains, Bitcoin is on the verge of losing its position as the dominant virtual currency.
The value of Ether, the digital money that lives on an upstart network known as Ethereum, has risen an eye-popping 4,500 percent since the beginning of the year.
With the recent price increases, the outstanding units of the Ether currency were worth around $34 billion as of Monday — or 82 percent as much as all the Bitcoin in existence. At the beginning of the year, Ether was only about 5 percent as valuable as Bitcoin.
The sudden rise of Ethereum highlights how volatile the bewildering world of virtual currency remains, where lines of computer code can be spun into billions of dollars in a matter of months.
Bitcoin, the breakout digital currency, is also hitting new highs — one Bitcoin was worth $2,600 on Monday. But the Bitcoin community has struggled with technical issues and bitter internal divisions among its biggest supporters. It has also been tainted by its association with online drug sales and hackers demanding ransom.
Against this backdrop, Ether has been gaining steam. The two-year old system has picked up backing from both tech geeks and big corporate names like JPMorgan Chase and Microsoft, which are excited about Ethereum’s goal of providing not only a digital currency but also a new type of global computing network, which generally requires Ether to use.
In a recent survey of 1,100 virtual currency users, 94 percent were positive about the state of Ethereum, while only 49 percent were positive about Bitcoin, the industry publication CoinDesk said this month.
If recent trends continue, the value of Ethereum’s virtual currency could race past Bitcoin’s in the coming weeks. Virtual currency fanatics are monitoring the value of each and waiting for the two currencies to switch place, a moment that has been called “the flippening.”
“The momentum has shifted to Ethereum — there is no doubt about that,” said William Mougayar, the founder of Virtual Capital Ventures, which invests in a variety of virtual currencies and start-ups. “There is almost nothing you can do with Bitcoin that you can’t do with Ethereum.”