The difficulty bomb is going off for the 3rd time in history with block times increasing from 13 seconds to 17 seconds. Block times will continue to exponentially increase in a stepwise fashion once every two weeks, cutting into mining revenues and making the Ethereum (ETH) network slower, which could lead to higher transaction fees. In order to prevent an Ethereum (ETH) ice age a hard fork is expected in January called Muir Glacier, which will delay the difficulty bomb by years.
The difficulty bomb is essentially a centralized control mechanism used by the Ethereum (ETH) developers to force network changes via hard forks once every year or two. Usually a hard fork, like Constantinople in early 2019, will push back the difficulty bomb so that the network does not have to worry about it for at least a year.
However, the difficulty bomb is apparently becoming unpredictable as explained in a previous Crypto.IQ article. The difficulty bomb was supposed to kick in around July 2020, so no delay was included in the recent Istanbul hard fork. The calculations were apparently off by half a year though, and even before the Istanbul fork the difficulty bomb began to kick in. Block times will increase to over 30 seconds in February if nothing is done to delay the bomb.
A hard fork which will resolve this issue is expected in January. It will be called Muir Glacier and will delay the difficulty bomb for possibly up to 9 million blocks, which would be several years.
The main point of this fork is to give developers time to fix the difficulty bomb so that it stops being unpredictable. If the difficulty bomb cannot be fixed then it might be removed from Ethereum’s (ETH) code permanently.
The majority of the Ethereum (ETH) community will likely be hoping that the difficulty bomb gets permanently deleted from the code in the future. This is because the difficulty bomb causes unnecessary stress and pressure for Ethereum (ETH) users and the market, since when it starts going off it means a fork needs to happen, but that fork always has the chance of including controversial modifications which would fundamentally change Ethereum (ETH).
Also, miners lose profits everytime the difficulty bomb starts going off, and transaction fees on the network could end up increasing dramatically which would be bad for all users and companies which depend on Ethereum (ETH).
It remains to be seen when exactly the fork will happen, and just how long it will delay the difficulty bomb, since the Ethereum (ETH) developers have not confirmed the details yet.