Once a rare occurrence, internet shut downs are becoming slightly more common. The latest country to do so is Zimbabwe, but governments around the world have at times briefly pressed that internet kill switch.
That hasn’t been a problem for bitcoin so far, but its considerable reliance on the internet may be a weakness. Now less so due to a bitcoin satellite service by Blockstream, the crypto development startup.
“I’ve had a couple internet outages where the sat signals have successfully kept my Bitcoinds receiving blocks,” says Gregory Maxwell, former CTO at Blockstream and a long time bitcoin protocol dev.
You don’t need too much to get your own space connection to keep at least one node running within your country even if the internet goes down. Maxwell says:
“For each of my two dishes:
76cm dish $45
MK1 PLL LNB $8 (note! EU and Asia need different LNBs!)
Coax from dish to inside– depends on length, mine was free because I scavenged it– you can get 50ft of RG6 for $15.
SWIM power injector $7
F to SMA connector $2
TCXO R820T2 SDR $24
USB extender cable $4
Figure a couple dollars in misc hardware, bolts, etc.”
It all costs about $200, with the greater difficulty being the finding of all these parts and then the construction of the connection which Maxwell describes in quite some depth, concluding:
“Beyond my issue with the slow computers making me falsely believe my aiming was wrong, the setup was really easy. (Though, I do have a non-trivial amount of experience with radio, SDRs, and Bitcoin.)”
Thankfully nowadays you can get an internet connection almost everywhere, but if you happen to be in a floating ship in the middle of the ocean testing out anarco-capitalist seasteading societies, then you might be limited to a satellite connection for bitcoin payments.
More importantly, if the internet connection is cut off in a country, then nodes in that country might partition and might split off from the real bitcoin network.
That can cause considerable problems, especially if that country happens to be China where most of the bitcoin mining takes place.
That has happened before amid rumors of a potential coup following Bo Xilai’s removal when the internet connections to the outside world was cut-off completely for about an hour.
That was in 2012 when China didn’t quite know of bitcoin yet. Plus an hour (six bitcoin blocks) may cause some problems, but not huge problems.
However, if there’s a successful coup or some sort of revolution or perhaps just an earthquake and the internet connection goes down for a day or more, it could cause significant problems as it would effectively break bitcoin into a China network and a global network.
To avoid that, just one node connection would be needed to keep the two parts together as one. Hence the satellite, which can keep updating one Chinese node, with that node then updating all others within China and the outside world.
Meaning that now it would be difficult for the bitcoin network to go down or break down at least between the big regions of China, Europe and America as it is probable at least one node has those satellite dishes (featured image) outside of their home.