African tech firm promises cost-free communication

by on 08/02/18 at 8:05 am


BlockMesh plans to enable wireless mesh networking across SA.

BlockMesh is harnessing the technology used to connect communities ravaged by natural disasters with the aim of driving down data costs and enabling cost-free communication in South Africa and then across the world.

Founded in 2015, the company specialises in wireless mesh networking. Much like electricity, mesh networking requires one uninterrupted input to power an entire grid. In the case of wireless mesh networking, just one smart device or node with an internet connection is needed, to which other devices – each becoming nodes of their own – can then connect. This network of interconnected devices can then be used to securely relay information from one device to the next until the intended recipient is reached.

“The mesh network will allow devices to piggy-back off each other, effectively removing the middleman and unnecessary expenses. It can operate via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi so once you’re on the network, it is essentially cost free,” explained Matthew Schulz, head of digital operations at BlockMesh.

He said the team was motivated to create a cost-free communication platform for the country and continent, such that Africans can channel more of their income to fruitful resources. According to him, roughly 20% of income in rural South African communities is used to pay for data costs.

A 2017 paper by Research ICT Africa found that data costs in South Africa are the highest among Africa’s six largest mobile markets, with one GB of data priced at $7.60 in South Africa and $1.20 in Egypt, the cheapest of the six markets.

Schulz said BlockMesh will pay for the initial connections, to be set up at strategic points across the country. To amplify its network, BlockMesh has developed special cell phone covers known as MeshCover, which can expand the network range from the traditional 150 metres to 15 kilometres.

“This means it’ll take significantly fewer early adopters to set up a stable BlockMesh network in any given area, and the locals will be able to start communicating for free, faster.”

It is also incorporating blockchain technology into its offering to create a more integrated, robust system and to incentivise users.

As it stands, all data sent through the BlockMesh network will be cost free. However, should the mesh connection falter in certain areas and users wish to use ordinary cellular data, they will earn Mesh Tokens for each MB of data that passes through the network. The tokens can be used for peer-to-peer payments or be redeemed for mobile data using the BlockMesh app, due to be released on Android in the coming months. Users can also channel excess cellular data into the network prior to expiry and receive Mesh Tokens as a form of payment.

Wireless mesh networking has proved to be an effective communication tool in areas hit by natural disasters. Mesh devices, sent to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which brought down more than 90% of the island’s telecommunication network, have helped to connect its people and facilitate communication within the territory.

In South Africa, a rural community some 60 kilometres from Mthatha is making use of a solar-powered wireless communication network developed together with a research team from the University of the Western Cape.

BlockMesh is planning a capital raise via an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) on February 28. Through the ICO, it will sell 10% of the company to interested parties, the proceeds of which will be used for growth-enhancing initiatives.

Brought to you by BlockMesh.

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