Althea, a system that lets routers pay each other for bandwidth, is launching its first network in Africa in early November 2019. An initial pilot network will start with about 15 participants. A partnership between MakerDAO and Althea will then help bootstrap the expansion of the network, bringing in more gear and better bandwidth. Althea is a decentralized ISP solution, operated by local people, where neighbors resell bandwidth to neighbors, creating a distributed network of routers paying each other for bandwidth.
Althea organizer, Yakubu Yakubu (or Yaxx) resides in the capital city of Abuja. It’s here that he will be launching the first Althea network in Africa. “We’re in the dark here,” Yaxx says. “Local schools and businesses can’t get the access they need to compete in today’s global economy”. Yaxx hopes that setting up an Althea network will allow his neighbors to resell bandwidth at a more affordable rate and make money too. Once the initial wireless infrastructure is built, some of the participants may elect to sell their bandwidth from their wifi hotspot to nearby mobile devices. This will increase the reach of the network and revenue for relays.
Althea’s first node will be at an apartment complex near the heart of the city-owned by Yaxx’s cousin Usman. Small businesses and a park are nearby, with many middle-class homes and apartment buildings. Usman will set up a fiber connection to his building and place antennas on the roof. These antennas broadcast the internet to nearby homes and businesses. He’ll make about 10 cents for every GB used. Usman works at the airport and sells cars, and he’s excited about the extra income he’ll make from operating an Althea gateway.
Yaxx doesn’t make money from reselling bandwidth like his cousin Usman. Instead, he will act as an organizer for the network — helping people install antennas and being there if something goes wrong. He earns a monthly subscription fee for this work from every router on the network. He also helps coordinate and partner with other local people who want to become relays or gateways, like Usman.
This network runs on Dai, a stablecoin developed by MakerDAO. This is a type of cryptocurrency that always stays equal to the US dollar, eliminating the volatility that has kept cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin from being used in everyday commerce. People will be able to buy Dai directly on their home router dashboards to pay for service, or they could buy Dai in local stores with cash. “Althea’s networks are exactly the kind of real-world, empowering systems where we believe Dai can truly make a difference. We are excited to continue to build out bandwidth networks with Althea in places that deserve better infrastructure,” remarks Greg DiPrisco, head of business development at MakerDAO.
Big telecom monopolies dominate the internet landscape in Nigeria, keeping prices high and much of the population without access. Here, only 46 percent of the country are internet users and most of that usage is via cellular carriers, providing less than 1Mbps with prices around $3 a GB.
Having affordable, fixed internet access at home will transform people’s lives here in Abuja. Everyone in the family will have much better access to educational and economic opportunities. Businesses will be able to sell and ship products online. Hospitals and medical centers will have access to more knowledge and expertise. Using Dai to buy and sell bandwidth will quickly become the new normal here, and as the network expands in this internet vacuum, the new normal throughout Abuja, Lagos and all of Nigeria.