What Is Bitcoin? How to Mine, Buy, and Use It

April 19, 2024
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4 min read

This is a Crypto Brand Press post. Brand Press is a paid service for brands that want to reach Techpoint Africa’s audience directly. Techpoint Africa’s editorial team doesn’t write Brand Press content. To promote your brand via Brand Press, please email business@techpoint.africa

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There's a lot of hype, speculation, and misinformation swirling around Bitcoin that can make this whole cryptocurrency shebang feel completely indecipherable if you're new to it. Well, I'm here to be your guide in de-mystifying the original and biggest crypto in all the land. 

But first, what is bitcoin? At its core, Bitcoin is a completely digital currency that operates independently from any government, bank, or third-party institution. Rather than relying on traditional monetary policies and centralized controls, Bitcoin transactions occur through a decentralized peer-to-peer network using blockchain technology.

Crypto 101

To understand Bitcoin, we first need to grasp the concept of cryptocurrency itself. These are virtual forms of money that only exist electronically, with transactions tracked through encrypted computer networks rather than physical bank ledgers.

The "crypto" element refers to complex mathematical encryption securing those networks and providing anonymity for transacting parties. Bitcoin was the pioneer that fired the first shot and paved the way. It was unleashed to the world in 2009 by the still unknown creator(s) using the alias "Satoshi Nakamoto."

Within this first working version of a blockchain-powered digital currency:

  • No banks or governments could shut it down or devalue it by creating more supply out of thin air.
  • All transactions were transparently and immutably recorded on a public decentralized ledger (the blockchain).
  • The money supply would be fixed at 21 million coins with new BTC issued algorithmically based on a predictable inflation schedule.
  • Users could participate, earn, and transfer BTC without their real identities being tracked or attached.

How Is Bitcoin Created?

Bitcoin is this decentralized digital money intended to provide an alternative to government-issued fiat currencies. The answer lies in Bitcoin's innovative consensus mechanism called "proof-of-work" mining - and it's fascinatingly complex yet relatively easy to understand at a high level.

See, new bitcoins are essentially "minted" by a global network of individual computers running special mining software to compete for the opportunity to validate the next batch of Bitcoin transactions. This is done by repeatedly guessing strings of letters and numbers until they solve a cryptographic puzzle.

Solving the puzzle allows the miner to add a new "block" containing that batch of new transactions to Bitcoin's blockchain. As a reward for doing this computationally intensive work to secure the network, the miner is given newly issued bitcoins.

This mining process is highly competitive and requires serious computing power to stay ahead in guessing new blocks. So much so that industrial-scale Bitcoin mining farms of thousands of specialized rigs compete in a metaphorical digital "arms race" of hardware in pursuit of block rewards.

Today the reward sits at 6.25 BTC per solved block, issued about every 10 minutes. Bitcoin's code is programmed to cut that reward in half every four years or so until the final 21 millionth bitcoin is minted sometime around 2140.

How to Buy Bitcoin

Okay, so maybe dedicating electricity-guzzling supercomputer rigs to solve cryptographic puzzles 24/7 isn't your cup of tea. Most people simply opt to purchase bitcoins instead of mining them directly. Thankfully, there are now dozens of popular online exchanges and mobile apps like Bitcoin Bank where you can easily convert traditional cash into BTC and other cryptocurrencies almost instantly.

Leading crypto trading platforms like Bitcoin Bank, Coinbase, Gemini, Kraken, and Binance make it simple to create an account and top up with digital assets in just a few clicks or taps. More advanced traders may also prefer accessing these exchanges through powerful charting and analytical desktop software.

Once you fund your account with fiat currency, you can then swiftly trade that into positions of Bitcoin or any other trendy cryptocurrency available on that exchange.

In general, it's wise to start small and keep your portfolio diversified across different assets during the often tumultuous volatility cycles cryptocurrencies experience. Just like keeping paper money in your pocket or a bank account, digital wallets are where you'll hold your Bitcoin address and private keys to access and spend your BTC holdings.

Use Cases and How to Spend Bitcoin

Assuming you've acquired a suitable stash of digital gold now through purchasing or mining, you're probably wondering what this magical internet money can be used for in the real world. Well, the list of use cases for Bitcoin as both a store of value and a direct payment method is rapidly expanding alongside mass adoption.

Beyond just holding BTC as a potential appreciation play, spenders can also increasingly use it to purchase everyday goods and services - although major retailers vary in adoption. Online, you can buy gift cards, e-commerce merchandise, book travel, and handle countless transactions through Bitcoin-enabled merchants and payment processors.

Many major brands like Microsoft, AT&T, Home Depot, and even fast food franchises have already integrated Bitcoin payments to some degree. There are even crypto debit cards allowing you to spend BTC balances like traditional money anywhere plastic is accepted.

Risks and Downsides

As revolutionary as Satoshi's Bitcoin whitepaper seems in concept, it would be irresponsible not to mention the asset's very real risks, drawbacks, and growing pains that remain.

While much better than in crypto's early days, the Bitcoin ecosystem is still rife with security vulnerabilities, extreme volatility, fraudulent characters, and an overall lack of regulatory clarity that can take its toll on investors and users.

Some of the major risks to keep in mind include:

  • Risk of total loss if your BTC or wallet is hacked or compromised.
  • Exposure to steep price depreciation and boom/bust cycles.
  • Potential for economically disruptive regulation.
  • Environmental impact of mining operations.
  • Limited protections or legal recourse for crimes.

As with any emerging asset class, the burgeoning world of cryptocurrency remains largely an experiment in building an entirely new global financial architecture.

In Conclusion

While Bitcoin may not seem as paradigm-shattering today as it did during its inception, there's still much yet to be explored and evolved in what Satoshi Nakamoto's project kicked off.

The future of money and societal trust itself is transitioning to decentralized rails like Bitcoin via Bitcoin Bank. Are you going to sit on the sidelines and tell your grandkids how you missed out? 

This article is a Brand Press post. Brand Press is a paid service for brands that want to reach Techpoint Africa’s audience directly. Techpoint Africa’s editorial team doesn’t write Brand Press content. To promote your brand via Brand Press, please email business@techpoint.africa

This Brand Press article was not written by Techpoint Africa’s editorial team. To promote your brand via Brand Press, please email business@techpoint.africa.
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This Brand Press article was not written by Techpoint Africa’s editorial team. To promote your brand via Brand Press, please email business@techpoint.africa.

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