Introducing Magic — Decentralized Internet Service from the Future

For the past five years, my co-founder, Pat Wilbur and I have focused on the challenge of providing better Internet connectivity for an underserved population: machines 🤖

The Internet (and cellular connectivity in particular) wasn’t designed for things that couldn’t walk into a store, choose a complicated plan, and sign-up for a long contract.

But, as it turns out, things that are tough for machines, humans don’t like much either. Who among you fondly remembers calling your local telco to figure out which cell plan to choose (or worse; to dispute your bill)? Who looks back in awe at the glory of waiting hours upon hours for a service technician to show up and “turn on” the WiFi at your new apartment?

Now — in introducing Magic — we hope to cast a wider net and bring better connectivity to everyone.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

The Internet is a Human Right

Through our trials and tribulations of running a cellular carrier at Hologram, we’ve gained a substantial appreciation for the complexity of the Internet and the challenge of delivering it reliably and automatically.

We’ve also learned about the problems of the Internet. We’ve navigated the monopolistic and sometime anti-competitive business of providing connectivity. We’ve seen broken infrastructure from the 1980s; entire companies that run their pricing and billing models manually with spreadsheets; roaming negotiations that stretch on indefinitely. The results are bad for consumers: inflexible pricing models, poor customer service, and network outages.

Internet connectivity is a human right and I feel there is nothing more important I could build than a better way of connecting to the Internet, not just for machines, but for everyone and everything.

Having good access to the Internet is increasingly as important as having food or water. Internet connectivity can literally lift a family out of poverty. Lack of access closes the door to a myriad of economic and social opportunities.

With Magic, we see the opportunity to significantly improve the delivery of Internet access. We are driven by the idea of making Internet access more affordable, more performant, and free of net-neutrality issues; architected to provide state-of-the-art security and privacy (another fundamental human right) to users by default.

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A Signal Storm of Inspiration

Around this time last year, my company Hologram, experienced a minor crisis. One of our large bike sharing customers had deployed a firmware update to their fleet of nearly 10,000 bikes, and it had not gone particularly well.

I woke up to a smattering of WeChat messages and requests for help; the calls from our carrier partners soon followed.

The bikes, which were clustered around a population dense area of Hong Kong, had gone haywire. The firmware bug caused thousands of devices to connect to one cell tower at the same time accidentally. The tower instantly hit its maximum threshold and service was disrupted for everyone in the area.

To make matters worse, the bikes locked on to the tower. They kept attempting to authenticate over and over again resulting in an accidental DDOS attack. The bikes stuck in their infinite loop had no Internet connectivity so we couldn’t tell them to stop. The only option would be to let their batteries die or to send a team through the crowded streets of Hong Kong to manually shut them all down.

Overall, this was not shaping up to be a great day.

With some help from our partners, we ultimately determined the issue was caused by poorly programmed 3rd party modem hardware. We were able to use some low-level manual configurations at the signaling layer of the global roaming network to mitigate their behavior. The tower returned to normal, service was restored, the bikes wore themselves out and shut down in time, and life went on.


Imagining a Supernetwork

Once fixed, we asked ourselves, “Why should it have even happened in the first place?” The devices were in range of an abundance of Internet access points — both cellular and WiFi — but they couldn’t tap into any of that excess bandwidth. We set ourselves to the task of creating a solution, so this could never happen again.

Flipping the story on its head — was the faulty hardware to blame or was it the fault of a network unable to handle the demand of IoT at scale?

We began wondering what might happen if anything could safely, securely, and instantly connect and transmit data to anything else. We wanted to create a supernetwork (network-of-networks) where devices could use more fluid access control (authentication) to take advantage of excess network capacity and find the path of least resistance when transmitting data.

Our experience from Hologram had given us a great appreciation for the complexities of delivering Internet connectivity reliably. At the same time, we’ve come to learn that the way Internet connectivity is physically delivered has barely changed since the 1980s. Since then the importance of the Internet in our lives has grown substantially. Internet access has been recognized as a fundamental human right by the UN. And, in many ways, the Internet is the lifeblood of an increasingly large portion of the population.

The next day we started researching the possibility of building a supernetwork. One where you could safely authenticate and transmit data through any broadcasting network in range.

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Making Teleportation Real

To break the problem down, using the Internet right now is like international travel in the early 1900s. Your data departs via horse, or car, or train, or boat and stop in numerous ports of call. You show your ID at each stop, and sometimes you have to travel through some pretty dangerous spots to get to your destination.

Now imagine if data could teleport and move seamlessly through obstacles. Data would travel safely from point to point in the fastest, most economical way possible and naturally avoid all the traditional issues.

Today I’m pleased to announce a new project from our team. Magic — a decentralized Internet service that “teleports” Internet data through any means available.

Magic is a supernetwork where devices use more fluid access control (authentication) to take advantage of excess network capacity and find the path of least resistance when transmitting data.

Imagine Internet connectivity without barriers. It would be a world were you never have to deal with long-term cellular contracts, unsecured public WiFi, or have to buy foreign SIM cards when traveling abroad; a world where dead-zones and dropped calls didn’t exist, and economic incentives existed for everyone (not just large telcos or ISPs) to help build and maintain a single world network in pursuit of these goals.


Providers and Consumers

Magic focuses on two primary groups: Providers and Consumers. Consumers can download Magic on their phones or laptops, set up an identity, and connect to the Magic network. Based on our user research we wanted the consumer experience to be as simple as possible, similar to using a VPN app.

Organic network growth is driven by enabling the community of Providers to quickly join the supernetwork through open source Magic tools capable of being extended and integrated across hardware platforms. As such, providers can turn their existing WiFi router, or any compute resource into a gateway by installing Magic agent software. No need to manage firmware, installing the gateway is akin to setting up an additional access point in your home. Providers can monitor connectivity to their nodes and check balances.

Underpinning both the consumer and provider experience is our open source libraries, enabling dApp developers to create ecosystem applications like reputation management, network governance, and other systems to augment Magic.


But why Blockchain?

It’s easy for the blockchain piece to suck up all the oxygen, but the real story and 80% of the benefit to users are going from today’s slow, inaccessible, and insecure user experience to something safe and seamless, even if no tokens change hands.

We chose to use blockchain because it’s the only technology that will allow us to create the trustless and abuse-preventative authentication architecture needed for a global network of networks. We are actively trying to avoid being caught up in all the typical trappings of being a crypto project. We want people to be excited about Magic as a product, not Magic as a token (we have no plans for an ICO).

If we could have built Magic with a centralized database, we would have, but ultimately the fundamental technical insights of blockchain (among them the ability to create trustless relationships) are what drew us to the technology. Using blockchain as a mean of authentication is what makes Magic possible.


New Rules

When Magic becomes the predominant means of connecting to the Internet, the most noteworthy thing will largely be how unnoteworthy it will seem. Everyone and everything will simply have connectivity by default; you won’t even have to think about it.

You’ll never waste a day of your life waiting for someone to install a cable connection in your new apartment, and you’ll never curse the super slow public WiFi at your favorite coffee shop. You’ll just be connected; the Internet will just work — safely, securely; quickly, and affordable.

To learn more about the project be sure to check out magic.co