Cryptocurrency prices are surging yet again, and Ethereum (ETH -3.19%) recently reached an all-time high of around $4,500 per token. This record is the latest in a string of recent highs over the past few days, as Ethereum continues its upward trajectory.

The latest price increase comes just days after the successful Altair upgrade to Ethereum's network, which brings it a step closer to the much-anticipated Ethereum 2.0 release.

While there are no guarantees that its price will continue rising, some Ethereum supporters believe the cryptocurrency could be on its way to $5,000 by the end of the year. Does that mean it's time to buy? Here's what you need to know.

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Is Ethereum right for you?

Like all cryptocurrencies, Ethereum is still highly speculative at this point. However, it does have several unique advantages in the crypto space, increasing the odds that it will succeed over the long run.

For one, it's a major player in the blockchain industry. The Ethereum blockchain is widely used for applications such as nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and decentralized finance (DeFi). It's also an open-source blockchain, meaning developers can create new applications on Ethereum's network.

All of these applications require the use of Ethereum's native token, Ether. Even if Ether itself doesn't become a mainstream form of currency, the success of any of Ethereum's applications could push its price higher over time.

In addition, Ethereum is on track to become a more environmentally friendly cryptocurrency after the launch of its update, Ethereum 2.0. Once this update is rolled out completely, Ethereum will move from a proof of work (PoW) to a proof of stake (PoS) mining protocol.

With a PoW protocol, crypto miners verify transactions using high-powered computers that solve increasingly complex puzzles. This method requires an enormous amount of energy, and many crypto critics have voiced their concerns over its impact on the environment.

With a PoS protocol, however, the verification process involves having miners put their own crypto holdings at stake for a chance to earn rewards. This not only reduces its energy consumption, but it also results in faster transaction times. Once Ethereum moves to a PoS system, it will have a considerable advantage over Bitcoin (BTC -0.22%), which still uses a PoW protocol.

Considering the risks

Before you buy Ethereum, it's also important to understand all the risks involved. Cryptocurrency, in general, is a risky investment, and Ethereum is no different.

Unlike stocks, cryptocurrency doesn't have a long track record of growth over time. Nobody can say for certain whether cryptocurrency will still exist in a decade or two, and its success will depend largely on how willing the public is to accept it.

Also, with newer cryptocurrencies being developed so quickly, it can be tough for the current players to maintain their competitive advantages. Cardano (ADA -3.88%), for instance, shares many of the same strengths as Ethereum, and it's quickly becoming a strong competitor. Ethereum will need to continue innovating to stay ahead of the competition.

This doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't invest in Ethereum right now. But it is important to make sure you know what you're getting into. There are never any guarantees when it comes to investing, and this is especially true regarding cryptocurrency.

If you choose to invest, only invest money you can realistically afford to lose, and be prepared to hold your investments for the long term. Brace yourself for more volatility, too, because it's likely to be a bumpy road as crypto continues to gain its footing.

Ethereum has plenty of advantages, and as it reaches new highs, it can be a tempting time to invest. Just be sure you're fully aware of the pros and cons of investing in cryptocurrency to avoid any surprises. By doing your homework, you can ensure you're as prepared as possible regardless of what the future holds for cryptocurrency.