Machankura, the new SMS-based service which uses Lightning Network, could make BTC available to millions of users from South Africa previously unattainable by the internet-dependent Bitcoin protocol.

Let’s start with a brief background: Kgothatso Ngako, the Machankura developer, first started with an African language translation project Exonumia which is an open source platform that allows its contributors to translate and publish content about Bitcoin into Native African languages. According to him this project makes Bitcoin more accessible to Africans and helps them to find a way to improve their life. The next barrier for Africans in his opinion was limited internet access as well as a shortage of space on phones and high pricing for internet access . Manchakura was developed to solve these problems.

The idea is definitely a success: the number of cell phones in Africa is huge, but not many of them have internet access. Stats show that in January 2021 internet penetration in South Africa stood at 64.0% while the number of mobile connections was equivalent to 168.5% of the total population.

Internet Penetration in South Africa. Source: Digital 2021: South Africa
Mobile connections in South Africa. Source: Digital 2021: South Africa

KG explained to Cointelegraph how the platform works:

“Users dial a number and are then introduced to a menu where they can learn more about Bitcoin or register an account. All you need to register an account is a 5-digit pin, and from there on, you are presented with a different menu: Send and receive Bitcoin. A person literally without no internet access can go from having no Bitcoin to having Bitcoin and then go to spending Bitcoin.”

It all sound extremely simple and seems that the project team feels the same way. Just look at their User Manual… Yes, it is simple, but we feel that a bit more explanation is needed.

In short: instead of having a smartphone app, you’re interacting with your wallet via the USSD menu. Users broadcast requests via mobile networks, and then the request is accepted and relayed through the internet and the Lightning Network via the Machankura database and existing Bitcoin and Lightning nodes. So, Machankura service manages your request via API with the Lightning Network without you.

Here you can see how it works in real life:

The new opportunities are being added to the platform gradually. For example, paying for electricity:

All this sounds great, but there’s one contradiction: the service is custodial, which is against decentralised principles, so the creator is now looking for a way to use SIM cards as private keys.

There are some other services that allow SMS transactions without Internet, but mainly you are required to register first. Cointext was another example of SMS based service which allowed you to send BTC to anyone with a mobile phone in the regions supported by the service, even if you didn’t have access to the internet, without downloading an app and creating an account. For some reason, the project was closed around 2 years ago. These two services look quite similar, but according to Machankura they are not:

Machankura seems to work well right now and covers six Africa countries already — Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. All in all the service is a great idea which makes Bitcoin way more accessible and convenient. Its simplicity seems to be a great feature to us. One problem: what to do if you lose your phone or your number gets linked to another SIM card?

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