"In March, these small devices created an experimental system that actually worked for 22 consecutive hours, even connecting Harpy devices to the #BlockstreamSatellite and relaying that connectivity to other users via the Turpial device." 🌐🛰️ https://t.co/ag8xXZXWWN
— Blockstream (@Blockstream) November 4, 2019
BITCOIN DURING BLACKOUTS
Venezuelans Made Lightning-Savvy Hardware to Use Bitcoin During Blackouts
by Diana Aguilar / Nov 1, 2019
“On March 7, 2019, all the lights went out in Venezuela. Total blackout. While the electricity crisis was already part of everyday life, the blackout still crippled communications across the country. It also inspired Venezuelan Randy Brito to focus fully on the Locha Mesh initiative, an open-source project working to enable private messages and payments without an internet connection. During the blackout earlier this year, it became clear to Brito that poor internet infrastructure was a leading barrier to crypto adoption. People were using dollars during the blackout not because they preferred cash, but because they lacked alternatives. “In Venezuela, cryptocurrency adoption can be very complicated,” Brito told CoinDesk, adding: “People can have trouble even downloading a wallet because of the lack of infrastructure.”
Locha Mesh has created two hardware prototypes so far, Turpial and Harpy, both of which act like small routers that don’t rely on local WiFi. Instead, they pass messages around the “mesh” until one outlet finally has an internet connection. (It’s not dissimilar to the work of New York-based startup goTenna.) “These devices allow commerce [during a blackout] by making it possible for users to send and receive payments using the bitcoin network,” Brito said, describing the devices as “easy to carry and hide” for safety purposes.
In March, these small devices created an experimental system that actually worked for 22 consecutive hours, even connecting Harpy devices to the Blockstream satellite and relaying that connectivity to other users via the Turpial device. Next up, came a focus on enabling small, fast payments using a scaling solution called the Lightning Network. “The Lightning Network requires you to be connected, otherwise, you wouldn’t know if your counterpart is lying,” Brito said. “These nodes, these devices are always connected to the Lightning Network.”
This struggle to use bitcoin without electricity is widespread across emerging markets, from Venezuela to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories. So Brito presented his latest mesh-network hardware tools for such transactions at the 2019 Lightning Conference in Berlin, because Locha Mesh is currently looking for investors and donors. His six-person team aims to start selling these devices in the first quarter of 2020. “We are currently finishing the second prototype and development kits,” he said. The team’s expectations are set on providing an accessible and safe form of communication for anyone in the world, said Luis Ruiz, CTO and co-founder of Locha told CoinDesk. Said Ruiz: “Basically, we are providing an accessible solution for anyone who finds themselves without energy or internet access in need for a safe, decentralized and censorship-resistant way of communication.”
BITCOIN WITHOUT CELL NETWORKS
A mesh network spontaneously erupts in the US and helps connect Puerto Rico
by Devin Coldewey
“When goTenna put out their Mesh device earlier this year, I thought the off-grid communication gadgets would be great for an emergency kit or back-country hike. But it turns out that both I and goTenna underestimated how hungry people were for a resilient, user-powered mesh network: thousands of dedicated nodes now populate cities across the country, and volunteers are using them to get Puerto Rico back online after a devastating hurricane season.
The Mesh works a lot like the original goTenna, which pairs to your phone using Bluetooth, then uses walkie-talkie radio frequencies to send text communications (no cell network necessary) to another device paired to someone else’s phone — perhaps a mile or two away. What the Mesh added was the ability to relay those messages: a chain or group of the devices will hear the message (it’s encrypted, of course) and pass it on until it reaches its destination. You can even set up your Mesh as a stationary relay, which in concert with other devices might let entire neighborhoods or even cities communicate, even in cases of a power or telecommunications outage.
I’ve always found mesh networks compelling, but I just sort of assumed they would emerge out of the proliferation of wireless devices we already have: phones, routers, laptops. But so far no one has been able to unify the clans and produce some kind of universal relay protocol. The goTenna Mesh, of course, is built for it out of the box. (I have a couple of units they sent me to review, but have only had the chance to test the most basic features.) When I talked to Daniela Perdomo, founder and CEO of goTenna, around the time of the Mesh launch, a handful of early users had registered their devices on a map and forum the company started, called IMeshYou. The volume of users creating permanent nodes took the company by surprise, and both the map and Mesh firmware were updated to accommodate them. “What I didn’t expect is that the long-term potential would be so obvious to other people so early on, this power to create your own networks,” said Perdomo. And sure enough, the map has exploded with devices.
The exact number of nodes changes regularly, as only some are permanent “fixed relays” (indicated by a lightning bolt) and the others may come and go. But it’s clearly a popular use case for the people who have bought a Mesh device — numbering nearly 100,000 now, Perdomo revealed. “The network layer we’re creating here is new,” she said. “Some people thought this was junk spectrum — but we can create an always available, bottom up, decentralized mesh network like this. If things go down, you can’t have Netflix, but you can say ‘hey, meet me here.’ ” You could deploy it one time and forget about it; a solar-powered stationary relay will operate continuously or wait patiently until it’s needed. It turns out that’s a particularly compelling use case when you live on, say, an island where the communications infrastructure has been devastated by a series of hurricanes. The company has embraced the opportunity to help the disconnected citizens of Puerto Rico, and to show the potential of a user-powered telecommunications network.
First @goTenna Mesh delivery from fundraising campaign for @PR_Reconnects just arrived in Puerto Rico! Please join and donate—we're matching every dollar 1:1! Give the gift of essential connectivity to people across the island's 15 municipalities https://t.co/44TtXEn1ji #imeshyou pic.twitter.com/10P4Yb4Rqt
— goTenna (@goTenna) November 10, 2017
“After the hurricane, reports were that 93 percent of telecommunications were down, and I can tell you, it felt like 100%,” explained Javier Malavé, director of the PR Reconnects project. “I drove around and all the antennas were down, the satellite dishes were down, the transport and backbone layers were down.” In other words, it wasn’t just about getting a generator to power up cell towers — generators and fuel were hard enough to come by anyway — even if you could, they wouldn’t be able to connect to the backbone. Especially in the inland communities where infrastructure was already tenuous, people were completely disconnected. “If you don’t have backhaul, forget about Wi-Fi or internet,” he said. “After a little brainstorming, we thought the best solution would be something that can provide at least text communication in an area.” He had heard of goTenna and decided to ask them for help; after a pilot campaign, goTenna and Malavé launched the PR Reconnects crowdfunding campaign on Razoo. Perdomo said that she was excited to be able to help out. (goTenna has also sent devices to Houston and the U.S. Virgin Islands.) “Part of my reason for starting goTenna was Hurricane Sandy,” she said. “So it’s really personally fulfilling to see something that came out of a storm like this… you know, help people in a storm like this.”
They shipped down some devices to help Malavé and a couple of volunteers mesh up San Juan — no small task, he noted, owing to the way the city is constructed. “In Puerto Rico we basically live in basically RF bunkers,” he said. If you just have an RF device in the living room of your place in the city, “the signal won’t even make it out of your house. We had to actually map things out,” he continued. “We talked with an agronomist who drove us around and found spots where you had line of sight to other places. We went house by house asking people to let us have access to their roof to put a solar charger and a goTenna.” Getting people on the app was similarly challenging. With no internet, they couldn’t download it, and while sideloading was sometimes an option, people are unlikely to just hand over their phone and say “Sure, attach your weird flash drive and load up some software I’ve never heard of.” So they ended up having to cut the Gordian Knot: “We just bought iPod touches.” Expensive, but the idea wasn’t to get every single citizen back online, just restore some basic conveniences.
“You tend to think that the first thing you would need in a disaster is food and water and medicine… [but] you won’t get there fast enough if you don’t have communications up." #PuertoRico #imeshyou https://t.co/zYuqCnJraj
— goTenna (@goTenna) December 13, 2017
Barranquitas is a small town located in the mountainous center of the island, where lacking telecommunications the people were getting information around the old-fashioned way: walking. “The parish has this organic network of communication,” said Malavé. But a handful of goTenna devices in strategic locations made it so that, for instance, instead of walking 40 minutes to the hospital to ask for medical aid, a person could walk 3 minutes to the church, where they could send a message to the hospital instantly. So far the volunteer group has a bunch of devices around San Juan and is working with a few smaller communities to set up small networks like the one in Barranquitas. They’ve also set up endpoints at places where connectivity can be relied on — a working satellite connection that can send text messages (the Mesh can act as an SMS gateway, sending texts coming from locations where there’s no signal) or connect to web tool APIs like Twitter’s. Like Perdomo says, it’s not Netflix, but in the aftermath of a storm, Netflix is pretty low on the list of priorities. If you’d like to help out, feel free to donate to PR Reconnects or send over a spare solar charger or Mesh device if you have one.
“A Loon balloon being launched in Nevada ahead of going online over Puerto Rico”
A very different approach to reestablishing communication, Google’s Loon project claims to have connected 100,000 people via balloons launched after the storms; but the balloons really act as a bridge between phones and distant, working cell networks. Lacking those (the backhaul Malavé mentioned), the system wouldn’t be able to do much — although in this case it looks like they were able to. But judging from the Google blog post, it looks like it was fantastically expensive to do and took weeks to get into action. A one-time setup cost, perhaps in the tens of thousands, for a mesh network (goTenna or not) could provide an entire city and much of the surrounding area with basic text communication, one of the most critical capabilities following a natural disaster. But perhaps we won’t have to: considering the popularity of the goTenna Mesh and the tendency of its users to buy three or four and set one up as a relay, it might be that major cities will already be meshed up by motivated users before the next storm hits.
— L-STEAM Podcast (@L_STEAM) October 17, 2017
“When disasters like this are in the mainstream consciousness, it allows us to have interesting conversations about infrastructure,” said Perdomo. “These events feel extraordinary, but really, they happen every day — and we should be asking questions about the resilience of our infrastructure. A key part of that going forward is distributed systems, wind and solar and all that, but people aren’t having that conversation about communications. No particular network is the be-all, end-all, but I think the future of communications includes a peer to peer layer.” And perhaps in the end, Perdomo suggested, goTenna will actually make its own hardware obsolete: “Today our phones don’t allow us to do what goTenna does, but we’re going to prove that they should be able to.”
BITCOIN WITHOUT INTERNET
GoTenna Launches a Bitcoin Wallet That Works Without the Internet
by Leigh Cuen / May 14, 2018
“Since internet connections aren’t always available, reliable or private, cryptocurrency users need alternative ways to connect to the network. So the New York-based startup goTenna, founded in 2012 by Brazilian siblings Daniela and Jorge Perdomo, is partnering with Samourai Wallet to launch an Android app this summer that allows users to send bitcoin payments without an internet connection. Announced Monday, the txTenna app will enable users to sync up their mobile with a goTenna device, which costs $179 per pair, then toggle the wallet app’s settings to transact offline and send the bitcoin. “You need to be able to spend your bitcoin even in disaster areas,” goTenna engineer Richard Myers told CoinDesk, citing the Perdomo siblings’ recent work in Puerto Rico, where goTenna devices helped people reconnect after Hurricane Maria. “As long as you have a way to charge your phone, you can be up and meshed and communicating.” The signal needs to be within roughly a mile of another goTenna device to relay the message across the mesh network, a decades-old system for using the internet without wifi or a landline. So far, goTenna has sold more than 100,000 devices that let users tap into the mesh network.
If the offline bitcoin user is within a mile of another active device, the transaction could bounce across the mesh until it reaches a user with an internet connection. “It offers an alternative that is more censorship-resistant,” Myers said, adding: “It’s going to obscure who you are and where you’re at when making these transactions. So that’s a big privacy advantage there.” This system uses a free, unlicensed radio frequency, and it isn’t the first partnership to explore such potential for cryptocurrency networks.
Stepping back, a variety of projects since the Cold War have used relatively cheap and mobile radio setups to broadcast across firewalls and oceans. Last year, renowned cryptographer Nick Szabo and blockchain engineer Elaine Ou published a proposal detailing how weak-signal radio transmissions could help boost security and the diversity of connections across the bitcoin network. Then, in December, after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission repealed “net neutrality,” fans of ethereum, the world’s second most popular blockchain network, started flocking to mesh network technology meetups. When net neutrality rules expire next month, internet service providers will no longer be barred from favoring or blocking specific websites and communities. It’s an opportune moment for censorship-resistant tools for bitcoin transactions.
Perhaps the most important aspect of txTenna is that the cryptocurrency wallet will be an open source project. Indeed, it was Samourai Wallet’s open source communication tools on Github that first inspired goTenna’s team to reach out to the bitcoin startup. The same txTenna code could theoretically be applied to iOS wallet applications as well. As Myers explained: “It absolutely could work with any software wallet and they [Samourai Wallet developers] are not writing it specifically for the Samourai wallet anyway. It will be something any wallet provider could send transactions through.”
DIY RESCUE COMMUNICATIONS
PHONE to PHONE MESH
DIY MOBILE AD-HOC WIRELESS MESH NETWORKS (MANETs)