The world we’re living in today is interconnected thanks to the technological innovations of the last decades. Most people nowadays are online 24/7 and it’s getting harder and harder to imagine our lives without constant online communication. But what happens in the case of a power outage or when there’s no access to the internet?
Imagine a post-apocalyptic scenery where there’s no electricity or an event where the government shuts down the internet, like it did some months ago in Iran during the fuel protests or in Egypt when it blocked Facebook, Twitter, YouTube & Google during the 2011 Egyptian protests. In these cases, we’re left to wonder, what good is Bitcoin if the internet fails? How will people be able to share files and communicate?
A team based in Venezuela is trying to solve these problems. They are developing Locha, a decentralized mesh network that doesn’t rely on the internet or even electricity, but instead utilizes radio frequencies in order to function. Randy Brito, the founder of bitcoinvenezuela.com, is the CEO of Locha Mesh.
[The word Locha comes from a coin of the 1800s, it means the 1/8th part of a silver coin. Nowadays, it’s an expression that means ‘money that you earn for your work’, your income. The phrase ‘La lucha por la locha’ means ‘I’m fighting for my money’, if you add the word ‘libre’ it means fighting for the freedom of money.]
What is Locha Mesh?
Locha Mesh is aiming to create the infrastructure needed for the establishment of alternative censorship-resistant communication, a long range radio network for off-grid messaging, file sharing and private cryptocurrency transfers without access to the internet. They aim to create two affordable devices, Turpial & Harpia, but since it is an open-source protocol inventors are also welcome to create their own DIY devices if they wish. These 2 devices won’t have a screen, and will function mostly like a decentralized router that relays encrypted data. You can connect the device with your smartphone, your phone will recognize it like a wifi network and the app will work with radio waves instead of using the internet.
Each device will be a node by itself. The nodes will create decentralized radio networks to connect devices at up to 4km away from each other, and transmit information to reach longer distances, making connection possible anywhere. These nodes can work independently on battery or solar power during power blackouts, natural disasters, or telecom infrastructure failures. Mesh networks can circumvent internet cutoff and power outages. Another network that utilizes sound waves to confirm transactions on a blockchain and to transmit encrypted information is Trillbit.
As the team states: “We are creating the software and hardware for anyone to be able to connect to the Locha Mesh to transmit data securely and privately without having to go through the over-controlled censorable traditional Internet infrastructure.
In the past two years people have tried to transmit Bitcoin transactions over long-range radio, but they’ve been using hardware that is very limited, closed-source, and also on licensed bands that need the operator to get a Government license to be able to transmit. We at Locha Mesh are creating a real high-bandwidth open mesh network, using license-free bands, that is capable of handling not only block headers and transactions (which are very small in size) but also block sync and other more useful features, like the IPv6 support so services can run inside the Locha Mesh.”
Locha Mesh Chat
How does it work?
Devices act as nodes within the network, they have enough information inside them so they can tell what other devices are around them, eliminating the need for a central server. All you have to do is send an offline transaction to the device, the device makes some hops to other nodes and then it gets published to the bitcoin network and it’s added to a block and nobody can tell if it was you, there’s no IP address connected to you, no ID or SIM card.
Satellites & Locha nodes
The devices will be able to send block data. For example, if you don’t have access to the bitcoin blockchain but someone near you has a satellite dish, he can get block information from the Blockstream satellite and broadcast that information to you. Systems like Locha and Blockstream can co-exist and work together in order to create a censorship resistant network that doesn’t rely on the internet. Here’s a guide on how to make completely offline bitcoin transactions using the blockstream satellite.
The way these nodes work, if you want to send a message online and you don’t have access to the internet, the nodes will relay this message to each other until they reach a node that has access to the internet.
You can also attach these devices to bigger antennas that cover 20-70km distance, so, in essence, you can connect countries inside the same mesh, sending signals from city to city and when they reach a big antenna, they can even be broadcasted across the borders to another country, which may have internet access. And even if it doesn’t, bitcoin full nodes and miners can run and communicate directly on a mesh network by relying on radio frequencies without going through the internet, ISPs, cables, etc.
The firmware and the hardware specification for creating a DIY Locha Mesh device and the mobile app can be found in the GitHub organization, hosted by the non-profit Bitcoin Venezuela (https://github.com/btcven). To learn more, you can visit Locha’s website and follow their project on Twitter.