An innovation using the cellular network (GSM) could integrate millions of Bitcoins (bitcoins) users previously unreachable by the Internet-dependent Bitcoin protocol. Built by South African developer Kgothatso Ngako, the new SMS-based service is called Machankura, a South African slang word for money.
KG, as known to his friends, spoke to Cointelegraph from Pretoria, South Africa about his passion for Bitcoin and the hope that Bitcoin via SMS could bring BTC to millions of Africans.
— Derek Ross ⚡5️⃣ (@derekmross) August 8, 2022
An English speaker, when KG first learned about Bitcoin, he religiously streamed audiobooks and podcasts on his way to work. As he fell down the Bitcoin rabbit hole, his 20-minute commute became a two-hour walk to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa, where he worked as a software developer.
In a separate interview, Bitcoin Mtaani founder Maestro Guantai told Cointelegraph, “The number of cellphones in Africa is double the number of people.” However, the penetration of internet-enabled smartphones remains low.
In Kenya, Guantai’s home country, he explains that topping up a phone with airtime is as common as credit card payments in the West. A Caribou report backs up the claim: 94% of financial transactions in Africa are done via USSD, the protocol used to send text messages, while only 6% of these transactions are done via mobile apps.
In summary, while there are millions of phones in Africa, they are mostly used for texting. KG had come across something that could be huge for Bitcoin adoption in Africa.
“This year, a lot of conversations in the space were about USSD or making Bitcoin accessible on feature phones—this could be a part-time project—just let me configure. And that’s basically how Machankura was born!
KG started by building an African language translation project Exonumia. Now providing Bitcoin-related education in dozens of languages, he explained to Cointelegraph that if we make Bitcoin more accessible to Africans, then, as a result, they will learn about money and find a way to improve their quality of life.
Once Exonumia caught on, he asked, “what are the other barriers to Bitcoin acceptance? Language is one, Internet access is the other. It sums up the Internet in Africa as a space dominated by large applications such as Instagram and Facebook The problems inherent in smartphone users are sufficient space on phones, internet connectivity, and price.
KG coded Manchakura to address these issues, explaining, “The main goal is to spend and receive Bitcoin.” KG explains how it works: Users dial a number and are then ushered into a menu where they can learn more about Bitcoin or register for an account. “All you need to register for an account is a 5-digit pin, and from there on you’re presented with a different menu: Send and Receive Bitcoins.”
Here is Paco, the Bitcoin traveler who won’t stop teaching people on Bitcoin around the world, showing Machankura to a teacher in Nigeria, per Cointelegraph’s request.
— Paco de la ⚡ (@RunwithBitcoin) August 8, 2022
As a result, Lightning Wallet compatible apps on phones or computers can send Bitcoin on the Lightning Network to the phone number – it has effectively become a Lightning address. Machankura has integrated with Bitrefill, an increasingly popular prepaid gift card service for Bitcoin in Africa. Also, starting Wednesday, South Africans will be able to top up their lighting wallets with grocery store credit in partnership with ‘One for you’, a voucher provider.
— Machankura 8333 (@Machankura8333) August 10, 2022
As Ngako summarizes, “A person with literally no access to the Internet can go from having no Bitcoin to having Bitcoin and then switching to spending Bitcoin.”
Master Guantai also shares that it already works well in six African countries. In addition, the popular Paxful exchange has already shown interest, Guantai explains, as the ease with which people can be entered using GSM is underestimated.
KG signals potential innovation concerns as government bans or reacts negatively to Bitcoin. The fees for purchasing the voucher could put people off, and the fact that KG understands that by offering a centralized company to onboard people in Bitcoin, there is a risk that they won’t spend time learning about the technology.
Additionally, the service is custodial, a point that goes against the Bitcoin ethos of “not your keys, not your coins.” So, he’s looking for a way to use SIM cards as private keys.