Substratum — Decentralising the Internet?

James Hunt
Nov 26, 2018 · 7 min read

Substratum is an open-source cryptographic network that allows anyone to securely rent out spare computer resources to make a free and fair internet.

Substratum network nodes earn the digital SUB token when they serve content. Nodes cryptography secure and deliver content without the need of using VPN (Virtual Private Network) or Tor, using AI to find the fastest way to get information to a user. Substratum hosts can utilise the network to host websites or applications, paying the nodes in SUB to serve that content. Web users can then view Substratum hosted content in their regular browser, not locked down by censorship or net neutrality laws.

The Substratum network runs independently from the SUB token. The SUB token (substrate and atoms — akin to dollars and cents) is used for handling payments related to the Substratum network, but is an ERC-20 token running on Ethereum.

What sets them apart?

Substratum provides tools anyone can use to help keep the internet accessible through decentralisation. It utilises the following principles in order to achieve this:

Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs (Internet Service Providers) treat all Internet content the same and not discriminate amongst creators or provide preferential treatment to those that could and/or would pay for it. In December 2017 however, the Federal Communication Commission responsible for this area voted to repeal the rules, and the regulations came to an end in June 2018 despite fierce criticism at the implications for free speech. [1]

This, almost single-handedly proved Substratum’s use case, who’s key principle remains that no entity should get to pay for their own Internet fast lane. They believe that information should be freely available to anyone, regardless of their location and via the decentralised web, no entity can therefore control that availability.

Ease Of Use

No technical expertise is required with all tools designed to be user friendly. Nodes are run behind the scenes in conjunction with your preferred browser and web visitors see Substratum network served content just like they would a normal page, without any additional software downloads required.

Incentivised Participation

Anyone can run a Substratum node to distribute content. SUB micro payments allow these nodes to receive a payment whenever they serve content. This incentivises take up in the decentralised web and also allows for far cheaper hosting costs.

Better Hosting Model

Rather than clunky off the shelf hosting models, or the pay-per-minute packages from AWS, the Substratum network allows you to simply pay for the requests that are processed, whenever requested.

Safety & Security

Substratum offers built in security for transactions. Industry-leading encryption, compression and Substratum’s cryptographic algorithms provides this, whilst remaining as lightweight as possible.

Cryptopay

Only recently released, Cryptopay allows visitors to shop with and any sites/apps hosted on the Substratum network to process payments in their favourite crypto currency (using Substrate as an intermediary).

Team

The Substratum team is made up of software developers, product engineers, web developers and marketing experts with around 20–30 years of experience in their fields. Most recognisable is CEO and co-founder Justin Tabb who is also the face behind their community outreach videos. Previously as founder of OverridePro (a web-development company) he has worked with clients such as Apple, Facebook, HP and more.

“One day, people might wake up and realize they don’t like big brother watching over their shoulder and having corporations track everything they do. And when that happens, Substratum will be there.”

- Justin Tabb, Co-Founder

What are they trying to accomplish?

Substratum is developing a worldwide network of nodes utilising cryptography to deliver secure, censorship-free content, that is fairly distributed, without the need for VPNs or Tor. A system paid for with on demand micro payments processed via blockchain technology.

Through this eco-system, they also seek to establish an interoperable payments networks to allow users to pay and accept payment in any currency, be it fiat or crypto, using SUB as a bridge currency.

Does it solve a real problem?

As we have seen from the recent repeal of net neutrality rules in the United States, the restoration of net neutrality through the Substratum network can resolve that problem.

More recent developments in being able to serve previously censored/restricted content from Facebook, Google, YouTube, etc through the Great Firewall of China and into places such as Iran go way beyond net neutrality and can provide solutions to those suffering from oppression, authoritarian control, dictatorship, lack of free speech and other general freedoms that could have an incredible impact.

SWOT Analysis

Strengths

• Freedom from censorship firewalls/geo-restriction and open to everyone.

• Serving decentralised content in a non-technical way.

• Average Internet users require no specialist software to use the Substratum network and the default browser will service all requests.

• Users serving content via the simple UI receive SUB tokens at designated payout periods and require no technical knowledge.

• No international barriers.

• Enforces net neutrality.

• Multiple nodes can work on a single request, splitting data for added security and efficient delivery.

• Node software automatically adjusts according to the computer status, increasing when idle and decreasing when in high use.

• Self-governed, removing content from bad players through network consensus.

• Content appears the same as it would on the centralised web.

Opportunities

• The ability to serve previously censored/restricted content into normally closed jurisdictions.

• Avoidance of powerful cloud services like AWS.

• Incentivising users to serve content in a passive, user-friendly way.

• Reduces high hosting costs of current platforms, only charging for each request rather than charging whether it is doing something or not.

• Cryptopay provides interoperability in payments allowing users and hosts to pay or accept in fiat or any crypto currency they like, near instantly and invisibly.

• Developing the full potential of various decentralised projects including exchanges, video platforms, e-commerce, health, financial services and more once the underlying Internet is decentralised as well.

Weaknesses

• The top 100 holders are though to account for over 80% of the total supply. [2]

• Community confusion over the number of tokens “burned” and whether they were actually burned or frozen, plus the status of the remaining tokens from the ICO. [3] Substratum have stated that any previously non-allocated tokens, or tokens that were not sold during the ICO were burned. [4]

Threats

• Substratum relied on an exception to the SEC filing regarding ICOs and deemed that as SUB is the fuel that runs the Substratum network they were cleared to run the ICO for US citizens too which may or may not be correct and still poses a potential threat. [5]

• Highly competitive niche with a number of similar projects seeking to achieve the same goals.

Community Activity

Substratum enjoys an impressive community following, especially on YouTube where arguably the team does more than most to reach out to the community and keep them up to speed on developments. They come across as open and transparent, understanding the importance of engagement, which is very refreshing in this space.

Conclusion

The idea of net neutrality should be a fundamental principle of the Internet, not just another aspect that can be sold to the highest bidder, further distorting an already unequal power structure in the delivery of content. Seeking to create a fair playing field where information is fairly distributed and openly accessible to anyone, across all borders is a noble and impressive mission. Add to that the interoperability of Substratum’s Cryptopay solution and you have a ready made eco-system to support a free decentralised Internet market. Going further and allowing oppressed people from all over the world the same access to information that the rest of us take for granted, has incredible implications that go way beyond the scope of most crypto projects.

This is still an early stage project with many hurdles still in-front of it, including potential regulatory ones. The openness, transparency, engaging and holistic approach they are taking however, is only to be commended.

Disclaimer: The author is a user of Substratum amongst other crypto currencies. Investing or trading in crypto currencies involves significant risk. It is important to research and carefully assess any such investments. All the information presented in this article does not constitute financial advice or recommendations of any kind.

By James Hunt (@humanjets). You can also find me on Twitter, Steemit, Reddit and Telegram.

Sources:

1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-44438812

2. https://etherscan.io/token/tokenholderchart/0x12480e24eb5bec1a9d4369cab6a80cad3c0a377a

3. https://www.reddit.com/r/SubstratumNetwork/comments/85yqlm/why_are_there_592000000_tokens_in_total_supply_on/

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bw56nstasJ0

5. http://substratum.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/substratum_whitepaper.pdf

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