Internet = connectivity + capacity

A common question and confusion regarding ThreeFold goes something like this: How can you have a new internet when all the ThreeFold nodes must be plugged into the existing internet? Or, does this mean that I don’t need an ISP anymore?

Recently @gosam asked me for some thoughts about how what ThreeFold technology could mean for places where governments sometimes shutdown the internet to stifle dissent. According to this Access Now report, 182 shutdowns occurred in 34 countries in 2021. I wrote the following in reply and thought it would be helpful to share here.

This question is tapping into an important distinction I’ve been recognizing when talking about what we do and clearing common confusion. Internet has two parts: connectivity and capacity. Most people recognize the connectivity aspect, whether that’s a cell signal or a cable coming into your house, but capacity is usually taken for granted.

Connectivity is only useful if you can connect to something. While use cases like peer to peer messenging or calls between two phones with no additional capacity in the middle are probably technically possible, this would provide pretty limited utility. You could only reach others while their devices were powered on and connected (kinda like only having phone calls and no voice mail). Capacity allows the asynchronous capability that enables typical internet experiences, like someone publishes an article today then someone else goes and reads it tomorrow.

ThreeFold’s technology enables distributed capacity generation, but we don’t deal in connectivity. To have a viable alternative internet, you need both. Communities have been experimenting with alternative connectivity schemes like wireless mesh for some time. Yggdrasil, which Planetary Network is based on, is well suited to leverage such alternative networks.

In theory, a wireless mesh network with some 3Nodes attached to it could provide very basic internet services independent of say, government controlled ISPs. You could send text and maybe some photos to your neighbors, but it would be high latency and low bandwidth. Communicating with the outside world would only be possible if someone had a satellite internet antenna or something.

In practice, we’re still quite a ways from seeing anything like this actually working, I’d say. There are some obvious issues, like the fact that Zero OS needs to be downloaded over the internet, so any nodes that went offline while the outside internet was cut would not be able to boot again. They also wouldn’t be able to accept any new workloads over TF Chain. People building “guerilla” internets like this would have different priorities than we do in building the general Grid, whereby maybe a derivative of Zero OS could be better suited.

Our existing tech has great potential for cases where the government isn’t hostile, but simply has a fragile connection to the rest of the world. These are places that can host their own TF Chains, provide their own local way to distribute Zero OS, and can continue to enjoy a fairly rich internet experience even if their undsea cable gets eaten by a giant squid or whatever.

There are some cool advancements being made in decentralized “last mile” wireless connectivity by projects like Althea and Helium’s 5G initiative. But these projects still need to connect to backbones, whether fiber, satellite, or fixed wireless. I love the idea that ThreeFold tech can help people in oppressed areas to keep communicating when governments try to shut off the internet, but I also think that we can’t just “decentralize” our way out of the political question of how to have fair and neutral access to connectivity backbones like the fiber we all depend on today.