Before finals last year, I traveled to Belize to escape school. I felt the full force of the 100% humidity and the sun beating down on our backs at a scalding 97 degrees. Trouble began to brew as our car rental fell through. It wasn't turning out to be the relaxing getaway we thought it'd be. Luckily, we got a car from Pauncho's, a local car rental service, at double the normal insurance premium. We soon pulled away the airport, and set our sites on a long drive.
Belize is undeniably beautiful. Glancing up from the road, I caught glimpses of lush greenery and huge mountains in the distance. And later in the trip, we spent time in a rainforest tree house, surrounded by the all the coos and croaks from all sides. However, this beauty was juxtaposed by the conditions of the towns we visited. I saw weather-worn houses and one-room schools deprived of access to internet. On the trip, we paid a huge premium for this privilege: $70 for a hotspot and 2GB of data. This was a luxury that many of the people I was surrounded by wouldn't be able to acquire. While meditating on that, I caught up with the connected world.
I read about how solar energy was spreading around the developing world due to low-cost Chinese panels and about the new release of the 21 Bitcoin Computer. The "21" press release had a quote that stuck with me--"a miner in every chip and device". Sometime while reading this article, a flash of inspiration hit. I envisioned an integrated system to give access to the internet and electricity for free--a solar panel, embedded cryptocurrency miner, battery, and Wifi/3G access point. We would give the device and internet services away for free and earn money by mining cryptocurrency with free solar-generated electricity.
While we have 5 billion phones on the planet, developing nations around the world not only pay the highest costs per capita for smartphone usage but also for merely powering those phones. We know that the smartphone is everyone's gateway to the internet. However, the internet that you and I use at home is not what those in the developing world use. Phones are often unable to update their firmware because the cost of that download alone would eat up an entire month of data. Data plans can cost as much as 37% of a worker's salary per month in the developing world, and in rural areas, this is even more stark. These areas often don't have access to cellular service at all. I know this not only from months living in my ancestral farm town in China but also from this recent experience in Belize.
I recently ran a back of the envelope model to test the feasibility of this design. Thanks to increasing solar panel efficiency, decreasing hardware costs, cheap computing power, new 4G/LTE/Wifi satellites, and Bitcoin, the numbers seem to work. We could potentially give everyone in the world access to today's essential utilities--free internet, electricity, and access to a global financial system. Who knows if this idea will end up working, but the potential seems pretty great :) If anyone has any info to invalidate this idea, please do so; in the meantime, I'll be learning more about the crypto price dynamics, satellite internet, and reliability of hotspots. Then moving on to building a prototype!