How nearly 3,000 Africans have accepted Bitcoin—generally called “Internet of money”—without really having access to the Internet?
The answer lies Machankura, a tool created by software developer Kgothatso Ngako for using Bitcoin without an embedded phone. No computer, smartphone, or internet service required.
“I had set up a raspberry pi running Bitcoin and a Lightning node and I was trying to figure out what I could build on,” said Ngako. Remove encryption with a direct message. “The USSD project was interesting because most of the Bitcoiners in Africa were already talking about building a mobile wallet.”
USSD stands for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, a protocol used in telecommunications networks for sending short text messages. It is similar to Interactive Voice Response, where the mobile network operator’s customer service may tell you which numbers to press to access a specific service, but in text form.
With Machankura, mobile phone users in many African countries can access the app by dialing a specific code, depending on their location and the service they wish to access. Its services include sending or receiving Bitcoin, checking one’s balance, or even exchanging Bitcoin for goods and services. Bitrefill.
The tool can even communicate with Lightning Network, a layer-2 payment system that allows fast and free Bitcoin transactions.
So he chose a solution called UX Lightning Address enabling phone users to easily identify lightning addresses for both sending and receiving satoshis. Standard Lightning invoices look like long random strings that have to be copied and pasted, a task that phone users don’t have.
The developer said there are now 2,900 people using Machankura, spread across 8 countries where it operates: Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, in Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia. Going by the numbers previously posted from the app’s Twitter page, that’s a 10X increase since August.
As Bitcoin adoption grows, tools like Macankura can grow to serve the estimated 2.9 billion people in the world still lack access to the Internet.
“I believe the tool can help ‘Bitcoin the un-Bitcoined,'” Ngako commented. “Payment technology is highly dependent on network performance. Both the receiver and the sender need the ability to send and receive in order for payment technology to be accepted.”