Bitcoin & Data Science
Earlier this year I published Mesh Networks: Why Care? where I explored the emerging communications technology Mesh Networking, its various forms and use cases. The truth is I first became interested in them after reading about several efforts to send Bitcoin transactions over Mesh. The basic concept of Mesh Networking is a distributed, peer to peer communications network where nodes (devices participating in the network) pass along each other’s data to other nearby peers. In contrast, most existing communications networks rely on more centralized models such as an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Here, the ISP has complete control of who has access to their network — if they go down, everyone connecting to them goes down with them.
The idea behind Mesh Networks is they provide a more open and resilient alternative to these centralized systems. If Alice wants to send a message to Carol but they are out of range from each other, but Bob happens to be somewhere in the middle, Bob’s device (usually a small mobile device) can act as a go between for the message and relay data between them. You can imagine thousands of people moving around one city, each connected to the network and helping connect other people’s messages. The main concern is that you don’t want Bob to read Alice and Carol’s private conversation. This is solved through the use of end to end encryption.
Mesh Network hardware manufacturer GoTenna was the first major player to add Bitcoin functionality. Their devices are mainly used by hikers and rescue workers in remote areas where traditional connections are not possible. The user connects their smartphone to the small device which is then able to send text data across much longer ranges, and can bounce from device to device before reaching its final destination. They now offer the ability to transmit Bitcoin transactions which can be sent similarly between devices before finally reaching a device that is connected to the greater internet which will broadcast the transaction to the Bitcoin network. The use case here is more to be resilient against power outages and government censorship.
Similarly, a group of Venezuelan Bitcoiners operating nonprofit Bitcoin Venezuela are developing a small, inexpensive device called Locha Mesh. The authoritarian Venezuelan government has taken a negative stance towards Bitcoin. They have acted to censor access to the network in the country and even stolen Bitcoin mining equipment from their citizens to use themselves. Locha Mesh aims to offer an inexpensive, open source hardware device to circumvent the harsh restrictions.
So far there is little usage of Mesh Networks in general, but these exciting projects paint a bright picture of the future, giving power to individual users rather than centralized governments and ISPs.