Wrapped Bitcoin is an ERC-20 token that is backed on a one-to-one basis with BTC. This effectively creates a bridge between the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains, enabling BTC holders to interact with the decentralized applications deployed on the latter network. On exchanges like OKEx, you'll often see Wrapped Bitcoin referred to by its ticker symbol, WBTC.
WBTC helps deliver liquidity to decentralized finance protocols and decentralized exchanges, which tend to be based on the Ethereum network. The use of the ERC-20 standard means WBTC can operate seamlessly with much of the expanding DeFi ecosystem.
When Wrapped Bitcoin is created, a corresponding amount of BTC is held in reserve by a custodian — ensuring that it can be easily redeemed and that WBTC maintains roughly the same price as the underlying BTC. This means that WBTC's supply fluctuates in line with demand, as WBTC tokens are burned as part of the process to unlock the BTC backing them.
WBTC launched in January 2019 — and four types of users can be found in the ecosystem: custodians, merchants, DAO members and the users themselves. Custodians are responsible for ensuring WBTC is fully backed, and merchants handle the burning of WBTC during the conversion back to BTC.
Compared to some other centralized stablecoin issuers, Wrapped Bitcoin says it depends on a consortium of institutions that perform different roles. Proof of reserves is also posted on the Bitcoin blockchain, with a breakdown of the custodian addresses where crypto is held.
Fully backed by BTC, WBTC price is intended to reflect that of the underlying BTC. To this extent, Wrapped Bitcoin is not too dissimilar from a stablecoin that aims to mirror the purchasing power of fiat currencies such as the dollar or euro. However, there can occasionally be slight discrepancies between the value of BTC and WBTC.
WBTC usage increased markedly as decentralized finance protocols rose in popularity during 2020. In June 2021, a milestone was reached when the number of Wrapped Bitcoin accounted for 1% of BTC's total circulating supply.
Plans to launch Wrapped Bitcoin were first announced in October 2018. The project was a collaboration between the institutional digital asset custody platform BitGo, the blockchain-based protocol Kyber Network and the Ethereum-based DeFi protocol Ren.
In the run-up to launch, WBTC smart contracts were audited by three independent firms. A decentralized autonomous organization was also launched, with the organizations behind the initiative joined by the likes of Blockfolio, Compound and MakerDAO. The DAO was designed to ensure that participants agreed with changes to WBTC's structure before implementation.