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Connecting the unconnected, banking the unbanked

World Mobile and IOHK seek to disrupt the global telecommunications market

11 August 2021 Alex Hamilton 6 mins read

Connecting the unconnected, banking the unbanked

Since the pay-as-you-go boom of the late 1990s, mobile phone use has grown sharply. Yet, half of the world’s population remains unconnected. That’s nearly four billion people, most of whom live in disadvantaged or remote areas.

There are many reasons why people may not be able to gain access to a mobile network. Lack of infrastructure is the main cause because network providers see little money to be made from building mobile masts in inaccessible regions. So, until they do, many of the most economically challenged people will remain at a disadvantage.

World Mobile Chain (WMC) intends to level the playing field. Founded in London, 2018, World Mobile is the first global network built on blockchain technology. Its mission is to create a sharing economy, aimed at delivering connectivity to remote communities around the world. The company has recently begun a partnership with IOHK.

I went to find a partner, I looked around and couldn’t find anybody who was serious, except for Charles Hoskinson and IOHK, nobody had the same level of dedication. Together, we can connect the unconnected and bank the unbanked – says World Mobile Chain, CEO Micky Watkins.

Venturing where demand is highest

There are thousands of international mobile network operators. As it stands, these network operators run on legacy infrastructure, leasing cell towers, and then selling their products like airtime minutes. All of this operates on highly congested frequency bands, such as 3G, 4G and 5G. However, these operators cater only for people who are already connected, because they wrongly believe that this is where the money rests.

World Mobile differs in its approach by going where the needs of individual people are highest. Usually, this means venturing to the remotest regions. The company bypasses the congested frequencies and uses other parts of the wireless spectrum, such as TV white space and Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or free-space optics, where data is transmitted through the air using lasers. In fact, the company is already collaborating with Google in Kenya on free-space optics, “a technology capable of transferring data at 20 Gbits/s over a distance of 12km,” says Watkins. By avoiding the licensed wavelengths, World Mobile can provide connectivity at a fraction of the usual cost. Watkins continues, “the inspiration for the venture was the sheer shock of learning about four billion people not having access to a mobile network.”

Google, Microsoft, and Facebook had been trying to find solutions, but had fallen short. Watkins had already been connecting people for 15 years (using microwave technologies), when WMC was born. The fact that $64 billion a year is spent on telecommunications in Africa, and 80% of the one billion Sub-Saharan population is unconnected, the potential for WMC to disrupt the industry is staggering, both in social and economic terms.

Connectivity at a remarkably low cost

The plan is to make it viable for people in remote areas to host ‘air nodes’. These consist of poles with solar panels that are linked to a wireless access point, then connected to WMC using tiny and affordable Raspberry Pi computers. Each node costs less than $5,000, far less than other methods. These devices are system agnostic, and will allow villagers in remote regions of Africa to access the telecommunications market. Connectivity could offer a viable option to making a living through farming or trade. This is a multi-stage project that will be developed following feasibility studies. However, if everything goes to plan, the first communications-based sharing economy should be possible within three years.

WMC will test the process in Zanzibar, which will see 100,000 to 150,000 people brought onto the network. Once on board, people will take ownership and begin earning from the network. Once the process is perfected in Zanzibar, it will be rolled out in Tanzania. With a potential market of 20 million people in 13,000 villages, WMC estimates that its existing team could roll the project out to 600 villages a month. Getting just 15% of these villages to host nodes would enable them to earn a substantial income, in a manner that just wasn’t previously possible.

Much has been said about the economic potential of the people of Africa. However, an area where the continent might end up leading the way is data security. Existing mobile networks know almost everything about us with our texts, photos, even our calls not really being our own. Data has become currency, with privacy being something we surrender upon signing up with a mobile operator network. However, WMC aims to alter this status quo by incorporating a privacy element into the equation. In the future, people in developed countries may well grow to envy the self-sovereignty of those in the developing world.

So where does IOHK come in?

It’s a bold vision requiring a fresh approach. The incorporation of blockchain WMC looked at IOHK, a business with an established presence on the African continent, as well as a shared passion for fairness and inclusiveness. A partnership seemed to make sense. Micky expects that by using Cardano in order to provide people with a digital identity, WMC will be able to bring their vision into reality.

Creating a financial system for emerging markets is no easy task. However, with IOHK providing a decentralized ledger and WMC acting as a bridge to the new market, inclusive, blockchain-based connectivity is one step closer. Disrupting the global telecommunications market is not something that can be done alone or overnight, and it’s not all about money. The new markets will be the markets that no one else can reach, but with a joint team of tech and industry-savvy individuals, the next few years will witness an unprecedented global transformation, both in finance and telecommunications.

Charles Hoskinson, Cardano and IOHK all see one thing in common, creating a new financial system for the emerging world markets,” adds Watkins. IOHK has done everything they can possibly do, on a peer-to-peer level, and on a scientific level to create the software to do that.

To learn more about World Mobile’s vision for Africa, don’t miss the film premiered as part of the #CardanoAfrica special or visit their website.

Runtime Verification & IELE – from interoperability to universality

KEVM and IELE will bring unparalleled levels of security, scalability and programmability to Cardano

10 May 2021 Alex Hamilton 4 mins read

 Runtime Verification & IELE – from interoperability to universality

Professor Grigore Rosu, President and CEO of start-up Runtime Verification (RV) joined us on March's edition of the Cardano360 show to share ideas and discuss the collaboration between RV and IOHK.

Our professional relationship with Grigore and RV started back in 2017, and Grigore’s credentials speak for themselves (in any language). He’s worked for NASA, DARPA, Microsoft, and has taught at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to name but a few achievements.

Grigore is also credited with the creation of the K Framework, which has been described as ‘software that simply cannot afford to fail.' Developed over 15 years, the framework’s primary purpose is to enhance security. We’ll get into this in more detail later, but first, a short history lesson.

When it comes to smart contracts, the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) set many early standards, for example the creation of the ubiquitous ERC-20 smart contracts, written in Solidity. However, this system isn’t flawless. Smart contracts have known coding vulnerabilities that have caused security issues. 

IELE: Unparalleled security, scalability, and programmability

Since late 2020, Cardano developers have had a bridge to the Solidity/Ethereum community via the K Ethereum Virtual Machine (KEVM), an implementation of the EVM specified in the K framework, which allows developers to use the formal verification tools that K produces to check a contract's correctness. 

IELE takes things a step further. As discussed by Rosu on March’s Cardano360 show, IELE (named after a faerie-like creature of Romanian myth) is a virtual machine that executes smart contracts, and also provides a human-readable language for blockchain developers. IELE was designed with formal methods in mind to address security and correctness concerns inherent in writing Solidity smart contracts targeting Ethereum, easing the path to heightened levels of security, scalability, and programmability. 

IELE resembles the intermediate representation of the LLVM compiler. This enables drawing on the wealth of knowledge available in the LLVM community, specifically, the work that has gone into writing safe and effective compiler optimization passes over LLVM IR. Much of the effort put into the LLVM compiler can be ported to the IELE optimizer as well.

About LLVM

When IELE is implemented (Rosu indicated that an initial proof of concept would be available for testing around six months from now), the opportunity for development will be even wider. IELE operates more like a passport than a virtual machine, opening the doors – if not the floodgates – to a wealth of new and unique talent. Some developers may have once dismissed the idea of entering the blockchain space, as it would likely have meant learning an entirely new programming language. As a direct result of RV’s innovative approach, any developer wanting to get involved in smart contracts can write them in a language they are comfortable with, including Solidity. The resulting output would run successfully on any IELE-powered blockchain, irrespective of the source language.

What does this mean for Cardano?

This achievement will offer developers and businesses yet another incentive to migrate from Ethereum and participate in the Cardano blockchain. Openness, inclusivity, and interoperability are the foundations upon which Cardano was built. Our philosophy is – and always has been – to welcome developers from all backgrounds, to ensure Cardano’s steady evolution. Rosu has bold plans. 'IELE is the crown jewel of our research over the past decade,' he says. 'It’s the maximum you can hope for on a universal framework.'

Final thoughts

IOHK’s partnership with RV demonstrates a commitment to innovation, and to opening Cardano to as wide a development community as possible. The KEVM/IELE implementation will expand Cardano’s reach and interoperability by creating novel avenues of cooperation that will lead to the exploration of new ideas, concepts, and technological developments in the context of a ‘correct by construction’ environment. 

You can read more from Alex at Cardano community site Adapulse.