Bitcoin: sending money via Ham radio and satellites

satellitesBitcoin was made to work through computer networks that verify and validate transactions and maintain a permanent record. But what about places where there are no stable internet connections, and regions where internet is blocked? Closer home in India, there are times when all mobile or internet services are suspended for limited periods. Another big reason is what are called partition attacks, which have been used to target crypto exchanges, and the method is to use delayed data to make target nodes go out of sync with the network.

Recently, a demo of sending bitcoin was shown via ham radio (famous for the amateur radio communities who share information using home-based radio equipment.)

As per reports, Rodolfo Novak, who is the co-founder of hardware startup, CoinKite, sent bitcoin to the Bloomberg columnist Elaine Ou using the Lightning network. The transaction initiated in Toronto, Canada, and money was moved to Ou in San Francisco, USA. Ou is also a blockchain developer and engineer, and has a receiver set up at home. To organize the event, the two parties first interacted over Twitter.

Ou’s colleague is Nick Szabo, the originator of the first bitcoin like currency, and the notion of smart contracts. They first thought of using ham radio to bypass the impending Chinese ban that didn’t ultimately happen. The advantage over satellites here was that satellites could only be used to receive, but not send data.

Ou and Szabo have presented the idea of sending bitcoin over radio at the Scaling Bitcoin conference in 2017.

So this is not the first time that ham radio has been used to send bitcoin. The Shftblog has covered this topic in detail, including how it is done:

Over short territories, a “Mesh network” can be set up to transmit the required information. The users will need to download the TxTenna app and the Samourai wallet.

It is important to note that these are pre-coordinated demos, and not actual use cases of sending bitcoin via radio. In addition, other than the software and hardware, one would also need a license to operate the ham equipment, and there will be other regulatory issues around a crypto transaction to address as well.

GoTenna, which makes communication solutions for natural disaster situations, is one company that is actively working in this field, along with Blockstream, the venture that is building a satellite blockchain network. The whole point is to secure the bitcoin network against failure, attacks and censorship, and to keep the network running at all times, even in places where there are no computers or network signals.

Blockstream, recently in news for setting up a fully solar powered and battery storage run mining facility in partnership with Tesla and Block, is an early pioneer in renting out satellites to relay signals across all regions without needing an undersea cable. Their current signal coverage can be seen here – Blockstream Satellite: Bitcoin blockchain broadcasts

Blockstream has set up “teleports” that send signals to its satellite partners and sync with each other. Anyone in the coverage area can run a bitcoin node by setting up an antenna and a USB receiver.

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