Send Bitcoin by Radio and
Circumvent Network Censorship
In an age where governments are all for censoring or closing down networks, it is assuring to know that Bitcoin can run sans internet. Network censorship, after all, is not some dystopian story but a power worked out by many democratic governments across the world. Thankfully, there are solutions that enable individuals to send out and receive bitcoin even in a worst-case scenario. For a sophisticated innovation, it turns out that cryptocurrency can get remarkably low-tech.
Picture waking up one early morning to discover that the internet is down. Not due to the fact that the wifi's been disconnected: rather, your government has pulled the plug. You've no idea when it'll be back online, and in the meantime, you're cut off from life as you understand it, varying from contact with loved ones abroad to paying for anything by card. Given that society isn't huge on keeping cash nowadays, and ATMs stock up on just so much fiat money at a time, chances are you'll need to avoid– or engage in– a few fistfights if you're to put a meal on the table.
Given that bitcoin is, itself, a form of digital currency, it takes a lot of preplanning to establish a transaction, but in theory, it might still run even when standard alternatives are forcefully eliminated from the formula.
What do –
and Ukrainians have in common?
They all woke one day and the banks were shuttered and capital controls were put in place to avoid an economic collapse.
Bitcoin doesn't close
— Jason A. Williams (@JWilliamsFstmed) February 12, 2019
While most of us will hopefully never experience a dystopian world of sporadic internet, the performance gurus advise us that a failure to plan is a strategy to fail. Knowing how to transact with cryptocurrency in a chaotic world is the sort of understanding that may just come in helpful one day, and in the meantime will make you the most intriguing guest at the dinner table.
Depending upon the political stability of your geographical area, finding out how to send bitcoin without internet could be absolutely nothing more than an enjoyable Saturday afternoon science project. However, it might provide the way out of a tight spot one day, whether it's moving funds to a buddy stuck in the middle of the ocean or paying off a zombie to feast on the coins kept in your brain wallet instead of devouring your brain.
Bitcoin Over The Airwaves
2014 saw the earliest mentions of bitcoin being sent out through the airwaves. Hamradiocoin was among the early vanity altcoins, tailored at the ham radio market. While it wasn't completely clear why stated specific niche industry needed a dedicated currency, its existing $794 market cap– unchanged considering that May 2017– adds to crypto's abundant historical arsenal of questionable coins.
However, the concept of wedding Marconi and Satoshi was bound to lead to more useful experiments. A step in the ideal direction saw Finnish business Vertaisvaluutta.fi propose the development of a P2P half-duplex CB/HAM radio cryptocurrency. Also in Finland, Kryptoradio partnered with a national broadcaster to pilot a cryptocurrency data transmission system that relays bitcoin transactions, obstructs, and currency exchange data by means of national DVB-T tv networks in genuine time. The project failed to release its commercial phase, with founder Joel Lehtonen explaining:
The project raised huge audience and there has been some serious commercial interest but nothing I am really interested in because they would destroy the original idea of Kryptoradio – distributing the Bitcoin ledger autonomously without internet connectivity.
Come 2018, there was a new experiment in town. Ingredients: Brooklyn-based Gotenna, a mobile, long-range, off-grid consumer mesh network, and bitcoin privacy wallet Samourai Wallet. A New Zealand developer transported crypto from a distance of 12.6km away, entirely offline, using only a network-disconnected Android phone and four portable antennas. Though as his Twitter recount acknowledges, it took a lot of a preperation, including setting up relay stations.
Over the weekend I sent a bitcoin transaction to a relay 12.6km away with no cell network or internet connection. Here's a tweetstorm about how I used @gotenna and @SamouraiWallet to do it
— ℭoinsure (@Coinsurenz) October 16, 2018
Fast forward to this year, and in perhaps the most simplistic effort yet, Coinkite founder Rodolfo Novak managed to move BTC some 600km away from Toronto, Canada to Openbazaar co-founder Sam Patterson in Michigan, USA. And in that moment, Bitcoin-by-sky went international.
Advocates for Bitcoin by Air
In 2017, computer scientist Nick Szabo and PhD researcher Elaine Ou delved into the topic at Stanford’s Scaling Bitcoin conference, introducing a research project that proposed tethering bitcoin to radio broadcast to secure consensus proofs using weak signal radio propagation. (View their talk, a copy of the presentation, and our coverage of the event for further information.)
With Novak and Patterson’s latest feat, crypto Twitter went wild. Szabo, showing that he’s still a firm proponent of taking bitcoin skyward, chimed in to congratulate the duo for a successful sendoff that not even a snowstorm could stop.
Fast forward to this year, and in maybe the most basic effort yet, Coinkite founder Rodolfo Novak actually managed to move BTC some 600km away from Toronto, Canada to Openbazaar co-founder Sam Patterson in Michigan, U.S.A.. And in that very minute, Bitcoin-by-sky went worldwide.
Supporters for Bitcoin by Air
In 2017, computer system scientist Nick Szabo and PhD researcher Elaine Ou looked into the subject at Stanford's Scaling Bitcoin conference, presenting a research study project that proposed tethering bitcoin to radio broadcast to secure consensus verifications using weak signal radio propagation. (View their talk, a copy of the presentation, and our coverage of the event for further info.).
With Novak and Patterson's most current feat, their crypto Twitter went wild. Szabo, revealing that he's still a company supporter of taking bitcoin skyward, chimed in to congratulate the duo for a successful sendoff that not even a snowstorm might stop.
Bitcoin sent over national border without internet or satellite — just nature's ionosphere. https://t.co/IKCAXGs9fW
— Nick Szabo (@NickSzabo4) February 12, 2019
How to Send Bitcoin by Radio
As Novak and Patterson have actually highlighted, to send bitcoin by air, you don't need to go overboard on gear or make space available for satellite storage in your yard. Accompanying an SDR ham on this mission was absolutely nothing more than a 40m 7Mhz antenna and the JS8call application.
While the setup appears simple enough (Google “ham radio for beginners” for a primer), in practice this is most likely not something you'll dive into unless you're simply playing around or, in reality, bad things go down.
Truth be told, there are numerous restrictions when it comes to sending bitcoin by radio.
To begin with, legalities. To stay on the best side of the law, some nations require you to be a licensed ham operator, and even then you're unable to send out any encrypted messages or use the airwaves for industrial purposes unless so certified. At this moment, it's not yet clear which governmental task force will join the SEC and co in clamping down on prohibited apocalyptic bitcoin-via-radio transactions.
Since legal limitation is the mother of all creation, Novak and Patterson prevented this by transmitting their experimental, non-commercial wallet file encryption sendoff through public cypher.
Then there's prepping all of it. For this to be a feasible– albeit last resort– solution in a real nail-biter circumstance, sender and receiver would have to set it all up ahead of time. Novak and Patterson had the ability to execute their experiment by interacting and collaborating in lieu of the transfer, using a brain wallet. (The brainwallet, which is simply storing your mnemonic recovery expression in your brain, is not to be puzzled with the recent more nefarious version– the deathwallet popularized by CEO Gerald Cotten who took the secrets to Quadriga's crypto kingdom to his grave.)
Therefore, if you're going to utilize this as a backup to prepare for when the shit hits the fan, you'd better protect a right-hand man or woman and a fool-proof project management plan while things are still web-friendly. If this procedure appears as though it strolled off the pages of a James Bond book, yes. It's decidedly more involved than a simple intra-wallet send-off.
However, if you're gung-ho on testing out alternative bitcoin transports, don't let the naysayers stop you. Yours might well be the next proof of concept the internet is waiting on. The blog site Better Off Bitcoin, for one, uses a run-through protocol tutorial.
Scalability Is a Big Bottleneck
Plainly, scaling is a non-issue here. For the foreseeable future, sending out bitcoin by radio doesn't occur unless it absolutely has to.
As mentioned by Australian crypto trader Boss Cole, “As Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are moving into the future, it is an interesting concept to think about what would happen if we instead went into the past. It is possible and easy to transfer Bitcoin without an internet connection, but it is not convenient. There are a number of projects working on this with satellites or their own infrastructure, however at the time of this writing they are not “popular” simply because there is no real demand.” He continues:
In the case of government censorship, the infrastructure would change rapidly. If we were dealing with serious problems, the infrastructure would follow. Because it is possible. If we went into the dark ages, the main way to transfer Bitcoin would be transferring private keys between individuals. This would be simple, but not convenient.
So while in theory, it's possible to take to the skies and send out crypto wallets around the world and all the way into space, Do It Yourself bitcoin ionosphere amateurs will not soon be sending out satoshis to the dark side of the moon anytime in the near future.
Why Radio Wave Transmission Might Be Necessary
We tend to associate worst-case scenarios in which the primary character has nothing but a walkie talkie and an old ham radio lying around with Hollywood's rendition of end of the world as we know it.
Yet for unstable regimes like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, internet blackouts were how 2019 got its start. In reality, network censorship is an all-too-common control tool for numerous federal governments around the globe.
India leads the pack with 288 shutdowns in between 2012 and 2019, with 134 instances in 2018 alone. The Middle East and Africa aren't strangers to forcing people into offline mode, either.
Good luck stopping information across borders when all you need is 40 watts of power, a long piece of wire, a radio and a computer.
— Sam Patterson (@SamuelPatt) February 12, 2019
Under the Communications Act 2003 and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, the U.K. has an internet kill switch, which could be enforced due to a serious threat such as a considerable cyber attack. The U.S. has had, for the previous 85 years, the power to eliminate electronic interactions under the Communications Act of 1934. And with talks of Russia considering a test run to decouple from the international internet, we risk recurring a rude awakening if we assume the world's 72,558 Google searches every second to be a self-evident assumption.
Bitcoin for each Situation
It may have taken a mini-library's worth of code to get NASA astronauts to the moon, but sending out bitcoin there will not be nearly as hard. All you need is a radio. Okay, that and a moon rocket. But the point is, this brand-new technology can be simply as comfortable– or available– even when the tech you're utilizing is decidely so yesterday.
Peer-to-peer networks built on the internet have a special allure because of the sense of resilience they have without a central point of failure. A bit misleading: they are really built on many computers and the connections between them.
Not true with radios. True peer to peer.
— Sam Patterson (@SamuelPatt) February 16, 2019
Bitcoin may have been developed on the internet for the internet, but it can straddle both the digital and analog worlds. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin walk the line between money under the mattress and money in the bank. As these trailblazers reveal, bitcoin can straddle those worlds not just functionally, but also technically. Thanks to the efforts of the pioneers profiled here, crypto has shown it can survive in even the most difficult environments.
Sending bitcoin by radio isn't rather pigeon carrier status, but in tech terms, it possibly could be. Which, states crypto developer John Villar, is “probably the most low end you can get before smoke-signaling a brain wallet.”
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.
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