Authored by Kiwi Yao, researcher @OKX Ventures and repurposed by Kelvin Lam, CFA
TON Ecosystem and Industry Analysis Report
In 2018, Telegram introduced TON (The Open Network), emerging as one of the prominent Layer-1 solutions in the cryptocurrency space. With its native token $TON currently holding a significant position in market capitalization, driven by user engagement and a thriving ecosystem, TON has garnered substantial attention. OKX Ventures has conducted extensive research on the TON network, delving into its intricacies and identifying key areas for future growth within the ecosystem.
In this two-article report series, it aims to provide a comprehensive exploration of TON’s potential. The first article will delve deep into the TON ecosystem, unraveling the unique characteristics of its blockchain technology and diverse applications. It will examine the underlying infrastructure and shed light on the innovative solutions that TON brings to the table.In the second article, the focus will be shifted to analyzing the current landscape of the TON ecosystem and uncovering exciting opportunities within the TON stack. By evaluating market trends and emerging developments, the article will pinpoint areas primed for growth and explore the potential they hold.
Second part of the report:
1. The Basics of TON
The development of TON has been a winding journey. TON was initially created by Telegram in 2018 and successfully launched an ICO in 2019, setting a record in the process. However, in 2020, the project faced legal challenges as it became the subject of a lawsuit by the SEC, leading to a halt in its progress. Two years later, the TON Foundation rebuilt the ecosystem, shaping it into its current state. The following roadmap provides a brief history of Ton’s development:
About the Team
The TON Foundation plays a central role in driving the development and progress of TON. The foundation is made up of a diverse team, with over half of its members from Russia and Ukraine, with the rest from other countries. Some of the founders and employees bring valuable experience from reputable platforms like VK and Telegram. This collective expertise contributes to the foundation’s efforts in shaping the TON ecosystem.
About the Token ($TON)
As of end of October 2023, $TON was traded at $2.22, and it’s up 326% from its historical low ($0.52 on Sep 21st 2021). To understand more about recent price actions on $TON, you can refer to the article here https://www.okx.com/learn/toncoin-price-prediction.
- Market cap: As of October 2023, the market cap stood at about $7B. It remained stable at around $3 billion from November 2022 to July 2023, with a significant increase since mid-July 2023, reaching the current level.
- Total value locked (TVL): $10.86M as of October 2023
- Fully diluted value (FDV): $10B
- Market cap/TVL: 654. This figure is higher than that of Ethereum (9.33), Solana (29.6), and Polygon (6.5), indicating a higher valuation.
- Token supply: The initial supply of TON tokens is 5 billion, with no upper limit, growing at about 0.6% per year (approx. equals to 30 million tokens). The supply is mainly controlled by the staking mechanism as $TON is distributed to reward validators. If a validator is caught misbehaving, a part or all of its stake will be slashed as a punishment. Currently, the staking APY is at 3.73%.
- Token utility: Telegram Wallet enables direct $TON purchases via credit card. Users can acquire digital goods, like anonymous accounts, using $TON. It can also be used for conducting advertisements within Telegram.
- Token distributions and economic model: The team holds 1.45% of the tokens, while the remaining 98.55% were mined through POW during the early days. To address dominance concerns, the team introduced the “TON Token Economic Model Optimization Proposal,” which was passed in February 2023. The proposal involved freezing inactive wallets for 48 months, affecting 171 wallets holding over 1.081 billion TON (21% of the total at that time). Additionally, a significant amount of TON was resold at discounted prices.
- On-chain distribution analysis: The current distribution of TON holders is as follows: 85.53% of users hold TON below $1k, 14.05% hold $1k — $100k, and a mere 0.42% of holders are classified as Richers, with holdings of $10k or more. In terms of holding periods, about 18.08% of holders have kept their TON for over a year, while the monthly holding rate stands at 12.20%.
- Transaction Fee: The average gas fee per transaction for $TON is currently in the range of 0.1–0.5 USD, significantly lower compared to Tron’s 1–2 USD and Ethereum’s 7 USD.
- Gas/Services Payments: Developers bear the cost of smart contract execution, while users can use $TON to pay for premium subscriptions to specific services.
- Telegram/TON Domain Name Service: The quantity of DNS on Telegram/TON is at 34,000 (compared to ENS domain names on Ethereum at 2,574,000). The sale amount reached 6,260,000 of $TONS (valued at around $14M based on last price of $TON). This equals to an average of $411 per DNS, indicating a relatively higher price point.
- Whale Club NFT: Users gain access to private staking pools, with Whales enjoying additional benefits through the Whales Accelerator program. They may also receive perks at the Whales Lifestyle Shop and attend in-person parties, among other privileges.
2. About Users and Developers
Telegram’s user base is experiencing rapid growth, making it the fastest-growing app in 2022 and currently the fourth largest instant messaging app globally. With over 800 million monthly active users, Telegram surpasses other prominent platforms such as X (556 million) and DouYin (715 million). Remarkably, the platform attracts more than 2.5 million new users daily (based on data as of January 2023).
Source: TON Foundation, Sep 15 2023
Telegram serves as a versatile platform for various blockchain use cases, attracting a significant number of developers. Additionally, it functions as an e-commerce platform, with Chinese foreign trade companies being among the major beneficiaries, having sold $1.2 million worth of exported goods through the Telegram platform by 2020.
Telegram enjoys a substantial user base, particularly outside of China and America, with Russia, India, and Brazil being the top 3 countries of the user base. In 2022, Telegram recorded 34.91 million downloads in Russia, surpassing second-place AliExpress (29.29 million downloads). India has the highest number of Telegram users, with 86.6 million registrations, followed by Brazil (15.8 million) and the United States (10.89 million).
In terms of market share (%), Telegram dominates the markets of Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Data for Q3 2022 reveals that these countries have a Telegram market share of over 60% among all internet users. Market share in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, Egypt, Türkiye, and Cambodia also surpassed 50%.
Source: Statista, https://www.statista.com/topics/9640/telegram/#topicOverview
Regarding content preferences for users on Telegram, they show a strong interest in news and educational content. News remains the most popular type of content on Telegram, accounting for 85% of user preferences. Notably, 59.5% of Telegram users also actively use Twitter, indicating a significant overlap in the consumption of news across both platforms.
Telegram has a high level of user engagement. According to data from Statista, Telegram users spend an average of 4 hours per month on the platform. Users in Russia spend more than 6.5 hours on average using the popular social and communication apps.
However, the current advertising recommendation algorithm in the TON ecosystem lacks efficiency, which can be attributed to the anonymous nature of Telegram. Consequently, the support provided by the ecosystem is not as effective as desired.
The user growth trajectory for TON is optimistic, according to the official data provided by TON:
- TON’s user growth has demonstrated stability, with a reported count of over 3.5 million accounts on the chain. Over the past six months, TON has experienced a growth rate of 176%. The daily active user count on the chain has reached 810,000, marking a 154% increase over the same six-month period. Moving forward, it is anticipated that TON will continue to attract an average of 1.5k new users per day, indicating a consistent growth pattern. The goal is for TON to encompass about 30% of Telegram users by January 2022 and target 500 million users by 2028.
- The number of Validators currently supporting TON stands at 349, distributed across 25 countries. The total number of pledges made by Validators is nearly 500 million TON, which accounts for 10% of the total token supply and approximately 14% of the tokens currently in circulation. These figures highlight the substantial participation of Validators and the considerable amount of pledged tokens, reflecting the level of support and confidence in the TON network.
Source: TON Foundation, Sep 15 2023
There are two programming languages primarily used in the TON ecosystem: FunC and Tact.
FunC is a lower-level language designed for developers who possess a deep understanding of the TON architecture. It offers developers an alternative to writing raw Fift code while providing similar levels of control. However, due to its precision, FunC can be challenging to use when developing complex multi-contract systems.
When working with FunC and Tact, developers should keep in mind several considerations highlighted by the Beosin security team. These include understanding the static typing nature of both languages, considering the code’s end path due to the absence of revert messages in the TON blockchain, being aware of the different transaction phases during code testing, handling failed invocation messages in the asynchronous blockchain environment, and addressing the risk of replay attacks in external messages.
The TON ecosystem currently has a relatively small number of developers compared to other ecosystems. As of October 2023, there are 28 full-time developers, 77 part-time developers, and 124 monthly active developers on Ton. The developer community primarily consists of individuals with strong technical skills but average product experience. In contrast, other ecosystems like Ethereum have a significantly larger developer base, with 1,900 full-time developers.
The official developer documentation on the TON website is relatively simple, covering smart contract development, DApp development, and integration with TON. The website also hosts a Q&A section for technical discussions among developers, although the number of replies received is relatively low. There are over 1750 TON-related codebases available on the whole network.
Communication channels for TON developers predominantly exist on Telegram, with high activity and engagement. The Telegram English developer channel has 5,667 users, with an average of 100 daily messages focusing on code and deployment questions. The Telegram’s Chinese developer channel has 1,596 users, with an average of 50 daily messages. The official TACT Telegram group has 1,287 developers, with a daily message count ranging from 50 to 100.
Regarding the Jetto wallet, although the total number of TON account addresses exceeds 3.5 million, the number of addresses associated with the Jetto wallet stands at 143,000. This indicates that only a little portion of users actively participate in the Ton ecosystem. The Jetto wallet contract facilitates the sending, receiving, and burning of tokens, and developers can utilize the Jetton tool to deploy their own Jetton tokens to the mainnet with ease.
Source: TON Developer Report: Q3 2023
3. Ton’s Framework and Technology
Adaptive Infinite Sharded Multi-Chain Architecture
TON’s sharding mechanism follows a bottom-up approach, where account chains are initially grouped into shard chains, enabling interactions within these shard chains. This distinguishes TON from other blockchain sharding schemes, as it allows for parallel transaction processing across multiple chains, creating a “blockchain of blockchains” structure.
The architecture of TON consists of three crucial components: the Masterchain, the Workchain, and the Shardchain. The Masterchain serves as the central coordinating hub and contains important protocol parameters, the set of validators with their corresponding shares, as well as the currently active workchains and subordinate Shardchains. To ensure the latest state can be determined, subordinate chains submit their most recent block hashes to the Masterchain.
- Masterchain: There is only one Masterchain, which holds the protocol parameters, the validator set, and their shares, the currently active Workchains, and the subordinate Shardchains. By submitting their latest block hashes to the Masterchain, subordinate chains enable themselves to determine the latest status when they need to read messages across the chains. This mechanism ensures the most up-to-date information can be obtained when reading messages across different chains.
- Workchain: The Workchain is a virtual concept and acts as a collection of Shardchains. TON can accommodate up to 2³² Workchains, with each Workchain having flexible customization options such as address formats, transaction types, native tokens, smart contract virtual machines (VMs), and other rules, as long as they adhere to interoperability standards.
- Shardchain: To enhance processing efficiency, each Workchain is further divided into Shardchains, with each Shardchain capable of accommodating up to 2⁶⁰ (automatically splitting into two when load increases and merging back into one when load decreases). Shardchains conform to the rules set by their corresponding Workchains, and the workload is distributed among all the Shardchains. Each Shardchain serves only a subset of the overall set of accounts, allowing for optimized processing and scalability.
By employing this unique sharding architecture, TON aims to achieve improved transaction throughput, scalability, and overall network performance by enabling parallel processing across multiple chains while maintaining coordination through the Masterchain.
Source: TON Foundation
Message Delivery Mechanism
TON incorporates asynchronous message delivery and utilizes a message hypercube routing mechanism for efficient communication within the network.
In TON’s asynchronous systems, messages play a crucial role in communication between nodes. These messages are handled using the “send_raw_message” function in the FunC language. The underlying logic involves participants processing incoming messages, modifying their internal state, and generating outgoing messages as a result. Hypercube routing in TON allows messages created in one block of a segmented chain to be quickly delivered and processed in the next block of the target segmented chain. Importantly, this is achieved without considering the total number of segmented chains in the system.
Asynchronous Message Delivery
In contrast to synchronous blockchains like Ethereum, TON operates on an asynchronous model. In TON, each transaction is executed on a single smart contract, and communication between contracts occurs via messages. This design ensures that a single transaction only affects and modifies the state of a single contract.
To facilitate such systems, TON introduces the concept of logical time, also known as Lamport time, for sequential event processing. Each message in TON has its logical time assigned, which helps determine the order of events. Validators can use logical time to prioritize transactions. The operational logic ensures that messages are executed in strict sequential order based on their logical times. In cases where multiple messages are present, the message with the lower logical time is processed first.
Message Hypercube Routing Mechanism
The message hypercube routing mechanism in TON enables efficient message passing between different types of chains. These chains include slice chains within the same working chain, slice chains across different working chains, and chains between the master chain and other working chains. Each chain is connected to a specific slice with a distinct hexadecimal number that differs from its own slice identifier. These interconnected chains form a “hypercube” graph. The entire chain of slices forms a hypercube network that requires log16 (N) routes and can support millions of slices with four nodes.
TON adopts two message routing methods, slow routing and fast routing. In fast routing, Merkle proofs can be used to relay messages directly without submitting them to an intermediate chain of slices, avoiding additional latency. However, the verifier is not penalized if the receipt is lost, so the two run in parallel.
The key features include:
- Nodes only need to know the information of neighboring nodes, not the errors of other nodes;
- Collecting input messages based on certain rules rather than purely “asynchronous”;
- Explicitly deleting output queue messages that neighboring slice chains have already passed through special transactions, preventing double-passing.
Global state of a sliced chain
In TON, a “bag of cells” refers to a collection of cells that constitute a directed acyclic graph (DAG). This DAG structure allows for efficient updates to the state. When updating the state, a new “bag of cells” is created with its own root, and the previous version is discarded. The old and new sets of cells are combined, and the old root is removed, ensuring the integrity of the updated state.
In the TON main chain, each block within the shard chain functions as a small blockchain, often referred to as a “vertical blockchain.” If there is a need to rectify an incorrect block within the sliced chain, a new block is introduced into the corresponding “vertical blockchain.” This new block can replace an invalid block within the “horizontal blockchain” or describe the modifications required between previous versions of the block. In situations where the vertical blockchain grows at a faster pace than the original blockchain, it can be substituted with a new version, ensuring the continuous evolution of the system.
In the network of TON, there are three distinct roles that play crucial roles in maintaining network security and integrity:
- Verification Nodes: These nodes actively participate in upholding network security by pledging TON tokens. To qualify as a Verification Node, certain requirements must be met, such as pledging a minimum of 300,000 TON tokens and meeting specific hardware requirements. The network selects a set of 100 to 1,000 nodes once a month, and these elected nodes are responsible for creating all the blocks. Upon election, the selected nodes lock their TON Coin holdings. During their tenure, the elected nodes are organized into working groups to collaboratively generate new blocks on the designated blockchain. For a new block to be successfully created, it requires the signatures of nodes holding more than 2/3 of the shares in the working group. If any of the nodes in the working group behave dishonestly or make errors, they face penalties through the loss of their funds and disqualification.
- Fishermen: Fishermen profit by identifying and pointing out mistakes made by Verification Nodes. They send invalid certificates to detect whether the Verification Nodes have diligently completed their verification tasks. If a Verification Node fails to detect the invalid certificate, they are penalized accordingly.
- Proofreaders: Proofreaders play a vital role in the TON network by recommending nodes to become Verification Nodes and profiting if their nominations are elected. They suggest new candidate blocks for the shard chain to the Verification Nodes. Additionally, Proofreaders carefully review the state of the shard chain and the data obtained from other shard chains, typically neighboring ones. They also provide suitable Merkle proofs to be sent to the Verification Nodes.
BFT: TON opts for a Byzantine Fault Tolerant (BFT) system over Delegated Proof of Stake (DPOS) due to its higher trust level, even though DPOS is generally faster. This choice highlights TON’s emphasis on maintaining a robust and secure network infrastructure.
Differentiating features of TON
TON distinguishes itself with its rapid block finality time, fast transaction time, large maximum number of slices, and higher slice communication speed compared to Ethereum. Unlike Ethereum, where users interact with a single smart contract and transactions are executed sequentially, TON creates a separate chain for each user’s wallet. Its high transaction per second (TPS) capability is achieved through parallel computation of slices, support for instantaneous cross-slice exchanges, and the ability of the TON Virtual Machine (TVM) to perform asynchronous computation. These factors form the theoretical foundation for TON’s high TPS.
The key distinction between TON and other blockchain platforms like Solana and Ethereum lies in resource payment and asynchronicity, which brings advantages in scalability and flexibility, but also introduces complexities in application development and maintenance.
Resource Payment: In the TON blockchain, each smart contract is responsible for paying its own resource costs. This means that smart contracts need to hold a certain amount of TON tokens and use them to cover the resources required for their operations, such as computation, storage, and network transmission. This design relieves users from directly bearing the costs, but it also necessitates smart contracts to have enough TON tokens to meet their operational expenses. If a smart contract exhausts its TON token balance, it will be automatically deleted. This mechanism prevents data inflation on blockchain and ensures efficient resource allocation.
Asynchronicity: In the TON blockchain, interactions between smart contracts occur asynchronously rather than atomically. When a smart contract calls another smart contract, the execution of the call is not immediate but is processed in a future block after the transaction is completed. This asynchronicity allows for more flexibility in handling complex interactions between smart contracts and enables efficient utilization of network resources.
By incorporating resource payment and asynchronicity, TON offers higher scalability and flexibility. However, it also adds complexity to application development and maintenance due to the requirements of managing resource costs and handling asynchronous interactions.
Source: TON Foundation, OKX
4. TON Native Components
TON’s P2P Network
Introduction: TON is a P2P network transport protocol similar to IPFS, which allows you to access the TON blockchain, send transactions, and receive client account or smart contract information.
Network structure: TON utilizes the Kademlia Distributed Hash Table (DHT) to locate other nodes in the network, and the Abstract Datagram Network Layer (ADNL) to communicate between nodes; TON also creates specific Overlay sub-networks for each Shardchain to ensure efficient communication. TON also creates specific Overlay sub-networks for each Shardchain to ensure effective communication.
- DHT: Locate other nodes in the network. When a client needs to submit a transaction to the Validator of a Shardchain, it can look up the Validator in the DHT through the Key and get the location of the Validator. 2;
- ADNL: ADNL abstracts the network layer in the traditional TCP/IP layered architecture. In order to facilitate identification, instead of considering IP addresses, nodes communicate with each other using an Abstract Network Address (ANA). The address is a 256-bit integer based on a hash of the ECC public key and other parameters, which provides the basis for segmentation between different Shardchains;
- Overlay: Different Shardchains do not need and are not capable of processing transactions on other Shardchains, so it is necessary to construct and Overlay sub-network for each Shardchain inside the TON Network, and the communication inside the Overlay network is carried out through the ADNL-based gossip protocol.
Introduction: A distributed and extensible naming system based on TON, similar to ENS. TNS resolves readable names (e.g., “alice.ton”) into computer-recognizable identifiers. It is currently available for sale/auction at https://fragment.com/ (the most expensive TNS sold is .news, which sells for 994000 TON, or about $2m);
Release date: July 2022
Availability: Fully available. Users can buy it for nicknames and wallet addresses, and developers can replace smart contract addresses with .ton domains during development;
Ecological support: Currently Tonkeeper, TON Web Wallet and Tonscan services have integrated support for TON DNS and can be sold on NFT marketplaces such as GeTelegramems or Disintar. Users who own a domain name pay 0.015 TON per year to continue leasing the domain name.
Introduction: P2P file sharing and storage solution using BT (file seeding) technology, similar to Dropbox, for storing copies of blocks and snapshots of the state of the TON blockchain, which is officially called the “decentralized Amazon S3”;
Release date: January 2023
Availability: Users can store files under 50 MB through the demo interface, but they need to create their own Bag (a collection of files distributed through TON Storage) and get a Bagid to deploy a smart contract, which is more complicated to use. Developers can store and distribute files of any size on TON or host static TON sites in TON storage by deploying contracts;
Development: In the future, TON Storage customers will be able to use the storage node registry to find storage nodes that meet their needs and will further optimize the user-side experience with the introduction of the Dropbox-like TON Torrents app and the TON Storage API.
Introduction: Proxy is a special network service that allows an endpoint to connect non-directly with another endpoint through this service, thus providing anonymous access to the network.TON Proxy is a TON network proxy layer used to hide the IP addresses of TON nodes. Users can launch the ingress proxy directly on their device, and this component will be available to all users as a simple DApp in the future;
Release date: October 2022
Availability: Users will be able to run .ton sites hosted on TON Storage that are not dependent on a fixed IP and can access these sites using a public portal node compatible with the HTTP proxy;
Development: In the future, major TON services could integrate TON Proxy, a feature similar to an anonymous I2P network that would secure IP addresses and allow users to run intermediate proxy nodes and gain revenue.
Introduction: A micropayment platform with integrated micropayment channels, similar to the “Lightning Network”. It can be used for off-chain transactions and to pay for the services of TON Services;
Availability: Currently, telegram integrates the “Wallet” Bot service, which allows users to make virtual currency payment transactions with retail businesses, directly searching for @wallet in the Telegram interface can be used to make payments, purchase cryptocurrencies, P2P transactions, and so on. Only the creation and closure of the channel require the payment of network fees. Only channel creation and closure require network fees. The next step is to introduce a merchant marketplace, where products and services can be placed in the @wallet interface;
Development: In the future, a multi-node network will be built so that users can make micropayments through intermediate nodes without having to create new channels, and the intermediate nodes can receive commissions.
Introduction: Self-hosted wallet in Telegram. The @Wallet is KYC compliant and can only be used for payments, while TON space is where the user keeps their private key, and all smart contracts can be invoked;
Release time: September 2023;
Usability: Currently in beta, it can be activated in the wallet in the personal account, and only has basic payment and collection functions. In the future, TON Space will act as a blockchain account, fully supporting the TON ecosystem including Toncoin, Jettons, and Collectibles.
Telegram Apps Center
Introduction: Provides a directory showcasing the ecosystem of Telegram bots and web applications (TWA);
Release Time: August 2023;
Availability: Currently, there are three types of projects, namely bots, games, and web applications. Users can access TWA through the official website, Telegram bot, and Telegram Channel about Trending Apps. Developers can also seamlessly submit new programs under development with the help of the dedicated application review bot.
Source: TON Foundation
Since its inception in 2018, TON has overcome numerous challenges and undergone transformative phases, including its initial ICO, subsequent restart, and ecosystem reconstruction. With the active support of the foundation, TON has experienced significant market value growth and an expanding user base. Its adoption of flexible infinite sharding technology and an efficient consensus mechanism has positioned it as a scalable and highly secure blockchain network.
Looking ahead, TON is poised to further expand its market share and achieve broader user coverage with the backing of Telegram. The combination of TON’s inherent strengths and the integration of Telegram’s payment system provides ample room for development within the social media ecosystem. However, it is essential to acknowledge that TON’s complex development language and asynchronous design present substantial challenges for developers. These challenges may potentially impede the rapid progress of the ecosystem.
Despite the hurdles, TON remains as a blockchain network with significant potential. As it continues to refine its technology, address developer challenges, and leverage its partnership with Telegram, TON has the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the blockchain landscape, offering scalability, security, and innovation to users and enterprises alike.
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