Today, Blockchain.info announced the release of the Thunder Network, which is an off-chain bitcoin payments solution using smart contracts, currently in the alpha-testing phase.
The Thunder Network is the first usable implementation of the Lightning network for off-chain bitcoin payments that settles back to the main bitcoin blockchain. The Thunder Network has the ability to make live, nearly instant, and ultra-cheap transactions.
Blockchain did the first Thunder Network transaction a few days ago, Transaction 0, where Blockchain CEO Peter Smith and developer Mats Jerratsch were able to successfully make a payment between each other off-chain.
In a blog post from Blockchain, Smith said,
Thunder has the potential to facilitate secure, trustless, and instant payments. It has the ability to unleash the power of microtransactions, to allow the bitcoin network to handle heavy loads, and to increase user privacy. In this Alpha version, we prove that it can be done. From a feature perspective, there is both a node and a wallet (with GUI) present.
Smith also went on to say that according to tests so far, they are able to achieve better than Visa scale (100,000 TPS) with only a few thousand nodes on the network.
At this time, the Thunder Network is still in an early alpha stage, so it’s not ready to be deployed in production with real payments yet, but it can be tested by running the code found on GitHub. It’s also dependent on when both CSV and SegWit are implemented on the bitcoin blockchain; until that happens transactions aren’t enforceable at the bitcoin protocol level. Blockchain estimates that it will take roughly twelve months before this happens.