World Mobile: Bridging the Digital Divide
The paradigm of the new digital economy is borderless, peer-to-peer, and data-sovereign. This new world has been developing quietly but surely since the 1970's when Stanford, the University of California at Santa Barbara, UCLA, and the University of Utah demonstrated the first four-way internet connection in the world. Consequently, over the past 50 years, the world has undergone the benefits and the throes of interconnection.
Our once highly fragmented anecdotal world has evolved into a hyper-mesh-network of digital communication — monetizing, commoditizing, and digitizing every aspect of our daily lives. This has become one of the most noticeable transitions of our social evolution. The only problem?
Half of the world is missing out.
The digital divide is a phrase commonly used to describe the gap between those who benefit from new technologies and those who do not. The International Telecoms Union (ITU) published in 2018 the global and regional report, which celebrated the first time 50% of the global population gained access to the internet.
As amazing as that milestone is, it also means roughly ~4 billion people lack basic internet services. This leaves you wondering: what does it mean if 50% of the world's population suffers from information inequity from lack of connection?
The world is moving to a more inclusive digital realm, and it's doing so more rapidly than ever before. But in order to fully function the way we're all envisioning, we need to pick up the pace in connecting the unconnected.
There are many initiatives, companies, individuals, and even nation-states who are aiming to bridge this divide. In this deep-dive we'll cover the following:
- The current landscape for an initiative of this scale.
- The significant advantages a decentralized protocol has.
- The significant obstacles that a legacy telecom venture faces.
With this as the groundwork, it will become clear why we think the first mobile network company built on blockchain, World Mobile, is best positioned to bridge the digital divide and construct what we are going to call The World Bridge.
The Digital Divide
Before we cover the business model and the technology behind World Mobile we will first set the stage for you so you can understand the significance of what the World Mobile Team are doing.
There are many expressions of digital inequality in the form of internet access like gender, age, income, education and even religious inequality. For instance, Middle Eastern religions are more likely to have internet access than East Asian religious communities. The epicenter, however, is undoubtedly inequality in the form of geographical fragmentation.
This leaves billions of people without identity in the digital world, consequently leaving them out of the financial world. By connecting these people in the digital world we can bank the unbanked, document the undocumented, and materialize the digital value of identity.
This is the main objective of World Mobile, and will subsequently be the root of this article. To better understand the issues we face, let's begin in Africa.
Africa is by far the most unconnected continent on Earth with only 22% of it's inhabitants connected to the internet, which makes up 44% of the unconnected world and a dismal 39.3% internet penetration rate (compared to the 62.9% penetration rate the rest of the world enjoys).
So why is it so important to connect the people of Africa?
Well, outside of the social interconnection aspect we discussed above, an arguably more important aspect is the economic evolution internet can bring to the rural areas of Africa.
Productivity growth is set to reap the most benefits from faster and cheaper communication that the internet can bring. Agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare, and education can all be efficiently stimulated by increasing internal and external communication between customers, partners and workers. This boosts transparency with broader markets, enables smoother supply chains, increases local, regional, and global competition. It also increases the effectiveness of marketing and pricing of goods.
Out of all developing nations, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the most vertical potential to realize economic value from a digital transformation. With the fastest growing population of average young people in the world, the African workforce is massive and therefore has the potential to be stimulated for equally massive economic growth.
But before we start rattling of commonly-used punchlines and buzzwords like the 4th Industrial revolution, technological leap-frogging, and super-economies, let's ground ourselves and discuss the major obstacles that the traditional and highly centralized telecom industry faces today.
Once we cover the types of problems that a legacy competitor to World Mobile faces, we can discuss just how revolutionary the World Mobile business model is.
Obstacles for Legacy Telecom Industries
Let's breakdown the major barriers for mobile network providers in Sub-Saharan Africa today:
- Cost Inefficiency
- Lack of Infrastructure
- Stagnant Policy / Positive Regulation
1. Cost Inefficiency and Policy
As it stands, there are 3 major reasons why the cost of mobile network operation in Africa is so high (and therefore the investment in infrastructure does not make sense for both public and private sectors). They are:
- The two major utilized mediums in Africa for internet access are fiber optic cabling and satellite, both of which are extremely expensive to deploy and maintain.
- The licensing procedures for mobile network operators are expensive and tedious because of government corruption.
- Public and private sector non-cooperation.
Right now, the westernized portions of Africa — mainly South Africa — enjoys much cheaper bandwidth for a few reasons.
First, South Africa has a direct connection to the MainOne, WACS, and SAT3 fiber optic undersea cables that link South Africa (and a few West African countries) to Asia and the Americas. This means they can utilize cheaper bandwidth by having a direct connection, but also poses a considerable monopolization when other countries not directly connected need to purchase internet access from these monopoly-countries.
Second, coastal and urban African countries do not have to deal with the hindrances that land-locked areas of Africa have to deal with. In most land-locked areas of Africa, satellite coverage may be either the only option or the cheaper option because of the cost to connect terrestrial and overhead cable to submarine cables. Furthermore, satellite access for businesses are still very much out of reach as they have to purchase hardware to participate and cover expensive energy consumption costs.
Lastly is the non-cooperation of the public and private sector. Many countries are scared of relinquishing too much power to the mobile network operators and continue to maintain monopolies and/or duopolies that stifle competition and keeps prices higher.
They do this either by denying full access control to a radio spectrum licenses, or by installing poor legislation and outdated policies which lead to slow and laborious licensing procedures. These further disincentivize new ICT (Internet Communications and Technology) ventures from starting up, and keeps an information bottleneck in place for the people of SSA, leaving them exposed to political corruption.
2. Lack of Infrastructure and Education
From 1995-present Africa has been the fastest population to adopt mobile telephony (i.e. mobile devices) in the world, growing from nearly half a million to 750 million today.
This never-before-seen rollout quickly outpaced infrastructure to provide mobile network coverage and nearly 78% of mobile device operators are left unconnected from the internet.
Legislation was not ready to handle regulatory compliance that would instill confidence from investors for building out infrastructure. The privatization of mobile network operators and the liberalization of mobile telephony was slow to gain traction, since governments were hesitant to transfer responsibility of operations from ministry to institutions.
Also electrical grid backbones were too costly to install. This situation is exacerbated by Africa's growing population, which adds nearly 30 million people every year.
Frankly, demand is outstripping supply in truly awesome proportions, which is leaving the entire continent struggling to keep up. The paradox of the African mobile network landscape is that if growth precedes investment but investment is crucial for growth, how can Africa grow?
In fact, the majority of problems that exist in the failing infrastructure today, and why investment in infrastructure is hard to source, could ironically be solved by the internet:
- Network/Electricity providers could track payment to stay solvent.
- E-government access to install forward-thinking politicians.
- Further access to resources, such as eCommerce, digital finance, education, distributed media, digital health, agri-tech, identity, and more.
The dire need for a digital transformation and its ironic correlation to the root of the infrastructure problem is ripe for opportunistic entities. The socio-economic changes that come with a digital transformation will empower individuals to become integral parts of their economies by being more informed, educated, and most importantly, connected.
A solution prioritizing the people tends to spread horizontally first, then consequently cascades from the bottom up and can stimulate every sector of the economy while simultaneously solving the highly corrupted government installations that persist.
By somehow solving this negative feedback paradox of internet access and infrastructure investment, one could possibly push Africa to the forefront of technological adoption readiness. With a more ready Africa, we can then start to discuss the technological leapfrog, the AI revolution, the renewable energy regime change, and the potential for the next global superpower.
Who can bridge this divide? You guessed it, World Mobile.
Now that you have a robust understanding of the current landscape a traditional mobile network venture has to traverse in order to provide for-profit solutions for developing economies (namely, Africa), we can talk about solutions.
What if there was a way to piggy-back the existing infrastructure, follow regulatory guidelines, introduce a demand-driven incentive structure, and provide borderless liquidity to deploy their own infrastructure? Let's dive into the inner workings of World Mobile (WM).
The use of blockchain, at its core, is the cognitive displacement of trust from emotional intermediaries to the indifference of math. World Mobile aims to displace the intermediaries that plague the mobile economy incentive structure (using tactics like capital flight, predatory pricing, and anti-trust) by creating a solution prioritizing the people.
Perhaps surprisingly, World Mobile is is neither a blockchain project, nor does it run one, in fact it is built to run on top of existing blockchain platform Cardano. WM is a massive scope project that is integral for connecting the people who need access to decentralized financial products and services the most, which means they need a blockchain that can onboard billions of users in a sustainable way.
In order to achieve their goals, WM aims to leverage the sharing economy, which is an economic system meant to distribute assets or services between participants directly. To do this, WM will institute native token asset incentive structures to efficiently onboard individual participant node operators that shoulder the network load that a traditional mobile network operating data center would.
WM will operate what is called the World Mobile Chain (WMC) which will be established by three layers of node operators:
- The Earth Node
- The Air Node
- The Aether Node
1. The Earth Node
The Earth Node is the brain of the WMC and will operate the core logic for all other nodes. The Earth Node is broken up into modules that all connect to the central module, called the Internode API. The modules include:
- Authentication Module (Decentralized Identity)
- Ledger Module (Cardano blockchain)
- Telecom Module
- Internode module
The Authentication Module
The Authentication module is responsible for providing the digital identify interface for the blockchain to interact with. This includes identity registration, credential management, and authentication.
The Ledger Module
The Ledger module is responsible for recording public and private data on-chain. The private ledger will always represent real-time, and the public ledger will record transactions in batches depending on significance. This will allow for reward mechanisms to function properly.
The Telecom Module
The Telecom module handles the communication function of the network. The closer a node is to the requesting traffic, the more priority it will have for directing said traffic.
The Internode Module
The Internode module is the most important as it facilitates connection between not only the ledger, telecommunications, and the authentication module, but also the Air and Aether nodes as well. The other important role of the Internode module is connecting the WM protocol to third parties.
2. The Air Node
The Air Node is the access point to the network. If the Earth Node is the brain that computes data, the Air Node is the eyes and ears of the network that onboards it. The Air Node provides coverage for a local area and is software that can be deployed on various hardware configurations that a location requires.
The Air Node connects a user with the network passing along important authentication details in order to provide available services, account balance, and bandwidth usage.
3. The Aether Node
The Aether Node is the connection between the WMC and the legacy installations. Think of it as the mouth of that network that talks to existing infrastructure in order to comply with regulation, correctly price products, and satisfy licensing agreements.
Now that we understand the three pillars that hold the WMC up, let's take a look at the incentive structure and how those pillars will be sustainable in the sharing economy.
The Sharing Economy
The primary role of the World Mobile Token (WMT) is to incentivize token holders that want to support the network (by delegating their tokens to a node operator), as well as node operators themselves.
Earth Node Incentives
An Earth Node operator is required to pledge a minimum of 100,000 tokens in order to participate in the network. All operational expenses (opex) is publicly viewable to potential delegators and users. Node operators earn rewards by producing blocks and appending them to the blockchain.
There are micro-incentives in the data of each block that node operators can take advantage of. For instance, if an Earth Node operator specializes in communication, they may have two nodes (one for origin and one for destination) on top of their normal block production and routing requirements.
This means that Earth Node operators are incentivized to carry heavier workloads to acquire more rewards for themselves and their delegators.
Air Node Incentives
An Air Node operator is rewarded for setting up hardware that provides internet access, in both unconnected and already connected areas. An Air Node operator earns rewards by providing access to Earth Nodes and reporting the quality of the Earth Node capabilities. They also earn rewards for the amount of traffic their node handles and even the efficiency of the routing of traffic to low and high bandwidth services dependent on the users request or location.
Aether Node Incentives
An Aether Node operator must have a minimum of 1,000,000 tokens to operate a node. A node operator earns rewards based solely off the volume of traffic it processes and the operator is paid using the local stable currency.
WMT (Token) Distribution Model
- 10% Public Sale
- 3% Incentive Rewards
- 2.5% Early Staking Rewards
- 5.9% Advisors
- 19.25% Co-Founders & Team
- 2.5% Private Sale
- 7.85% Partnership Fund for strategic positioning
- 2% Community Fund
- 18% for Operational Expenditures
- 29% for Node Operators/Staking
WM chose Cardano for various reasons, mainly because of the parallel prerogatives that exist at the core of each project. Cardano aims to bank the unbanked, but in order to do that they need to connect the unconnected.
You can see why there is an invaluable symbiosis here. With that being said, there are more structural and technical reasonings behind the choice to partner with Cardano, such that Cardano is:
- Decentralized and open source
- High assurance code - same level of scientific rigor as mission critical systems
- Peer-reviewed academic research
- Fast transaction speeds (TPS) and low transaction fees
- Formally verified Proof of Stake consensus
- The protocol is designed to protect users’ privacy rights while taking into account the needs of regulators (opt-in metadata and Atala Prism) - a critical factor in telecommunications networks which is a regulated industry
- Focus on Africa as a first territory of deployment for their solutions
There are novel suites of products that Cardano has developed that WM can utilize like the Atala Prism framework as we mentioned above, which is what they will use to anchor digital identities to the Cardano blockchain using the Earth Node.
Also, the native token asset buildout allows for even cheaper transaction fees that will be paid in WMT, unlike the ERC-20 model of Ethereum. The WM development team can not only utilize the Cardano-centric Plutus smart contract language, but also their enterprise-grade DSL product Marlowe that isolates the complexities of the Haskell-based Plutus language and offers a more user-friendly smart contract development environment.
The World Bridge
So how will building on Cardano and the solutions that WM proposes bridge the digital divide we mentioned at the start? Let's discuss why the WM sharing economy and the decentralized build out is massively advantageous in the mission to connect the unconnected.
Cost Efficiency and Policy
In a world where digital infrastructure for mobile broadband is highly centralized, predatory, and unable to scale to the geographical locations that need it most, WM has brought its own solution.
WM is a fabric that overlays over existing infrastructure, which means everything that is under regulatory compliance. This includes:
- Fiber Optics
- Free-Space Optics
- Commercial White-Space
WM is a strong proponent of not reinventing the wheel. This is apparent in practice by their deployment of the WM network. Instead of carrying the expensive overhead cost of deploying an entirely new network, they can just harness the existing one and deploy where necessary.
In Zanzibar, this means they access ether boxes and cell towers via fiber optic cabling by renting or leasing usage. If it is necessary to deploy their own wifi-repeaters, towers or cables, they have the operational funds to do so, as broken down in the token distribution. This allows WM to minimize operation expenses in urbanized areas of Africa.
Once they've either connected or created the infrastructure to deploy the network, they must begin broadcasting. WM pays wholesale for free space optics which is the usage of infrared light propagation for close quarter, high speed connection for point-to-point consumption; particularly useful in urban environments.
WM pays for the license of commercial white space to broadcast radio signals to end-users. This type of broadcasting solution can be used efficiently for high speeds, low packet loss and signal errors at long distances (25-35 km). They also don't have to pay for the frequencies because is is considered an alternative spectrum. This is great for lowering their operating expenses.
In the future, when the unconnected are running on the WM network, there are various avenues for monetization of these exclusive spectrums. Also, a decentralized protocol has significantly less expenditures than their legacy incumbents by distributing services inherent in the sharing economy. This includes burdensome operating expenses such as:
- No commercial real estate.
- No Employee Salaries.
- No Diesel consumption/security costs.
- No electricity bills for office space.
- No data/switching centers. (Earth Node)
- No costs for peering or handing traffic to ISPs (Aether Node)
- No cost for data storage, compute power, or ICT billing software (Earth Node)
These costs are either completely eliminated in the decentralized business model or are offloaded to the network operators that are globally distributed and monetarily incentivized.
Let's talk about the operational expenditures to provide mobile connection to the land-locked and rural communities in SSA. Without proper national level infrastructure for electrical grids and the expensiveness and negative carbon footprint of diesel power alternatives, WM has developed their own solution. The solar powered WM Air Node.
We talked about the incentive structure for deploying and running these Air Nodes but let's talk about why they are changing the game. These solar powered nodes use batteries from the Chinese EV market that are cost-efficient to implement and sustainable over the long term. SSA gets a very significant portion of sunlight which reliably helps keep Air Nodes operational. The Air Nodes use VSAT to transmit frequency across longer distances.
The most unique part of these Air Nodes is that in WM's Tanzania case-study they actually found that villages used the excess energy from the large solar panels to power refrigerators for vaccine storage and food, charge mobile devices, and even hardwire copper lines to homes and street lights. This provides safety and disincentivizes criminal activity.
The other advantage of using solar powered Air Nodes is that the diesel-powered alternative is expensive to maintain and usually requires security detail to make sure no one siphons gas — two costly expenditures eliminated.
Village communities and entrepreneurs alike are both incentivized to run these Air Nodes so they can earn local stable currency equal to the use of the Air Node.
What About Starlink?
This is an extra section that was highly requested. The common misconception is that Starlink and World Mobile are competitors chopping at the same tree. The reality is they're both able to accomplish different goals with the same outcome with each providing their own solution to the problem. Let's discuss.
Starlink is the child company of SpaceX. Starlink has a goal to launch 42,000 low-Earth orbit satellites that provide high-speed and low latency broadband to the underserved. Currently, there are 1,750 satellites launched by Starlink and are functional. These satellites are covering only the individuals who are participating in the Beta testing program. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has has approved Starlink with a license to launch just 12,000 satellites.
In Africa, cheap satellite coverage would utterly change the game. However, cheap satellite coverage is a far-fetched reality that will take many years to accomplish. If anyone can do it, it's probably Elon Musk — but there are significant costs for such a large operation.
The monthly subscription for a Starlink satellite connection is $99/month and the starter kit is $499/month. These seem high, but when you take into account that the closest competing phased array components that are needed for these types of satellite dishes run for tens of thousands of dollars, you realize just how cheap these are in comparison.
There is a caveat here, though. These prices are subsidized, and only for the United States and Germany, as far as I know.
One analyst priced a non-subsidized starter kit somewhere around $1500 — roughly a 200% price hike. Extrapolate that out to the monthly fee and it would be $297/month.
In Africa, where there are no subsidies, these prices are out of this world (pun intended). In Nigeria, the most likely SSA country to adopt new technology, the price conversion for a non-subsidized starter kit is 618,810 naira. The median salary per month is 339,000 naira, which means 50% of the population has a lower income and vice versa. That's 2-months of expenses for the startup fee and 15% of monthly expenses for the subscription.
In less developed countries like Ethiopia, it's even worse:
- Median monthly income: 9,048 birr
- Startup fee: 64,725 birr
- Monthly subscription: 12,945
You can see now why Starlink's solution isn't even close to being able to serve the underserved in remote places of Africa. However, there could be some symbiosis between World Mobile and Starlink.
Facebook criticized the Starlink prerogative as entirely too cost-deficient and instead placed a much higher priority in developing fiber optic cabling for rural SSA. They partnered with 2Africa to expand the submarine fiber optic cable networks to reach land-locked and Middle East region.
As you've read, World Mobile places a significant portion of their network-load on the use of fiber optic cables for urbanized areas. As the network expands to the rural unconnected parts of SSA, WM uses backhaul VSAT on their Air Nodes to reach the fringes of these communities. In a perfect world, when Starlink is able to deploy cheap terminals, World Mobile could replace the old VSAT technology with faster and cheaper Starlink alternatives. Starlink could also use World Mobile to reach the more densely populated areas of Africa where point-to-point free space optics is a more viable network connection than satellite.
The World Bridged
Let's say WM has completed their goal of connecting the unconnected in SSA — what's next? I wrote an in-depth article of exactly how users who are now connected to the internet will be able to leverage Cardano, DeFi and the digital revolution, titled "Cardano & Africa: A Look into the Future".
The article covers how an Africa that is internet-enabled can access liquidity, promote foreign direct investment, create completely novel debt-instruments, and even stimulate legacy institutions.
Now that infrastructure has been laid out, internet access deployed, and millions of people onboarded to the new digital economy, WM will have a hefty track record to extrapolate their business model to the rest of the unconnected world.
I hope you were able to get a birds-eye view of just how important connecting the unconnected is and how a decentralized protocol has significant advantages over its legacy competitors. The digital economy is coming, and with The World Bridge the world will be more connected than you can even imagine.