On August 15, Blockstream, a leading provider of blockchain technologies, launched Blockstream Satellite, an innovative service that provides free access to the Bitcoin network. It will target an estimated four billion people currently not connected to the internet, due to lack of availability or affordability.

Blockstream Satellite broadcasts real-time Bitcoin blockchain data from satellites in space, delivering availability across two thirds of the Earth’s landmass, with plans for near global coverage by year end.

In an exclusive interview with BTCManager, Blockstream Co-founder Adam Back offers his thoughts below on the genesis of Blockstream Satellite, its purpose and long-term vision.

What is Blockstream Satellite and What was the Impetus Behind its Launch?

Blockstream Satellite is a new service that broadcasts real-time Bitcoin blockchain data from satellites in space to almost everyone on the planet.

Today there are an estimated four billion people around the world who aren’t connected to the internet, due to lack of availability or affordability in their area. As members of the growing Bitcoin community, and as believers in the technology to be able to create a positive, social impact, we wanted to make bitcoin available to even more people than ever before.

How Will People be able to Access it?

With Blockstream Satellite, just one person in a community needs to have access to the blockchain data through Blockstream Satellite, allowing for the distribution of that data to other people locally. Although Blockstream Satellite users today will still need some internet access (cellular, satellite internet, etc.) for bitcoin transactions themselves (the median bitcoin transaction size is only about 250 bytes). Blockstream Satellite handles broadcasting on the Bitcoin blockchain which is projected to grow by 8 gigabytes per month.

How Secure is it?

At Blockstream, we take a security-first approach to technology. More people participating strengthens the overall robustness of the network. Blockstream Satellite also provides an additional layer of reliability for blockchain data in the event of a network interruption.

“Users can also gain improved privacy by receiving the Bitcoin blockchain over satellite and avoiding the highly identifiable traffic patterns associated with retrieving it over the network.”

What sort of Infrastructure Supports it?  

The Blockstream Satellite network currently consists of three geosynchronous satellites at various positions over Earth that cover four continents; Africa, Europe, South America, and North America. Ground stations, called teleports, uplink the public Bitcoin blockchain data to the satellites in the network, which then broadcast the data to large areas across the globe. Additional teleports are being built out in phases to enable worldwide coverage.

“By the end of 2017, additional satellites will be added to the Blockstream Satellite network enabling worldwide coverage and reaching nearly every person on the planet.”

And the Software?

Blockstream Satellite makes extensive use of open source software. GNU Radio, an open-source software development toolkit, enables the cross-platform implementation of software-defined radios (SDR). The use of SDRs eliminates the need for specialized hardware, which greatly reduces cost and makes the technology widely available. To further ensure performance and reliability, Blockstream Satellite utilizes the Fast Internet Bitcoin Relay Engine (FIBRE), an open-source protocol based on several years of experience operating and studying the Bitcoin Relay Network. Together, these open-source technologies power the Blockstream Satellite network enabling Blockstream to provide this free service to users reliably and cost effectively.

What sort of Real Impact Do You Believe it will have on Bitcoin Adoption?

We believe Blockstream Satellite will accelerate Bitcoin adoption. Blockstream Satellite creates a way to bring Bitcoin to more people, especially in places where there are internet limitations. One of challenges of blockchains is that they are broadcast; every block on the blockchain has to go to every node everywhere in the world. It’s hard to do broadcast data on the internet; you have to make copies over and over again, which is inefficient and can be quite expensive or impossible in some areas.

Finally, What is Your Long-term Vision for Blockstream Satellite?

Our plans for Blockstream Satellite include bringing on more satellites and teleports to enable worldwide coverage and to reach nearly every person on the planet by the end of 2017. As more people start using Blockstream Satellite in the coming months, we look forward to seeing increased user adoption and to hearing from businesses what advanced features and capabilities they would like to see considered in the commercial roadmap.

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