With the world’s population approaching 8 billion people, it is inconceivable that more than half do not have access to basic communication networks or the internet. Attempts to solve this issue have run into familiar roadblocks: high cost of last-mile service, language barriers and cultural resistance.
Mahala Network is deceptively simple: by upcycling end-of-life mobile devices and connecting them to each other—instead of cellular towers, drones, balloons or satellites—we create an organic, distributed network that allows individuals and communities to communicate by text, voice and video.
Mahala Network is an inexpensive, distributed, lightweight platform for bringing digital connectivity to the more than 4 billion people who don't have access to the internet.
In our world of nearly 8 billion people, more than half are not able to connect to the Internet.
“There are indications that Internet growth is slowing, as broadband services extend out of urban areas to more remote, less densely populated areas.”
— UNESCO Report 2015
“While most Americans have Internet in their homes, only half of all adults who make less than $30,000 per year do. And 15 percent of Americans don’t have access to the Internet at all…”
–Pew Research 2013
“The western world has established something of a monopoly not only on the Web, but on its content as well…which means that many individuals across the globe remain unaware of the Internet’s potential or cannot use it, because there is little or no useful content in their native language.”
— The Broadband Commission for Digital Development
“Imprisonment of the mind is as much a sin as imprisonment of the body. We must free people limited by the lack of Internet access.”
— U.S. Senator Cory Booker
By taking advantage of existing “e-waste” it reduces the overall footprint of electronic devices in landfills around the world and gives them a meaningful second life.
Focusing on establishing inter and intra village networks, Mahala meets immediate communication needs, without introducing the complexity of cross-language or cultural communication gaps.
In addition, Mahala eliminates the “land-rush” mentality inherent to the first world internet. Every participant within the Mahala network creates value and adds meaningful content within the network, becoming creators instead of consumers of technology.
Finally, the decentralized nature of Mahala eliminates many of the on-going costs associated with running the first world internet, ensuring that participants are not treated as products.
All together, Mahala provides a robust platform for communication, commerce and creativity to service the unconnected population of our world.
Mahala Network brings technology together to exploit innovation instead of individuals.
Understanding Mahala Network
mahala is a Bantu word that means "community"
Mahala is a network for the unconnected—a device that creates its own standalone network that can be brought into any community anywhere in the world. There are no assumptions about power requirements, wired or wireless connectivity or even proximity. It just works out of the box
In addition to upcycled mobile devices, Mahala has a prototype device that looks just like a cell phone with an integrated solar panel and substantial internal storage. When these devices are assigned to an individual they are biometrically encrypted to them and they are assigned a unique identifier for life. They receive some basic training about how to create, publish and share their own content within the network, how to access information already on the network and how to request information that isn’t available yet.
As more people in the community are given Mahala devices, the network gets stronger. Individuals can make calls and send messages to each other—each device connecting securely to the devices around it to form an encrypted chain from the sender to the receiver.
Many small villages today are serviced by semi-regular vehicles that provide them with supplies from nearby towns and cities. With Mahala, the driver becomes a conduit for more than supplies—they are a link to other villages that frequent the same cities. Information from those other villages is cached on his device opening up opportunities for messages to be securely sent and received and a basic framework for trade that didn’t exist before. The network takes on elements of a digital Pony Express, or a truly global interlibrary loan.
And with the encryption that is built directly into Mahala Network is the framework to support an economy. Every transaction on the network, whether passing along an encrypted message, or bringing data from a sister network is rewarded with a small digital payment using blockchain based cryptocurrency. This is more than a passive digital income stream. It allows neighboring villages to do business using a standard currency without relying on financial institutions that are infrequently available or prohibitively expensive.
Mahala is for Creators
Mahala provides a flexible platform for developing rich media content and experiences without the need or know-how to set up scalable servers or application stacks. Create content and applications in the languages you know. When any individual on the network solves a problem, it’s easy for others to replicate your success.
Mahala is for Learners
If the Internet is any indication, content on a new network grows slowly. Individuals can search portals in their own language for the information they want and request it. Think of it as inter-library loan for the Internet.
Mahala is for Sharing
Mahala makes it easy for digital entrepreneurs to share what they do. Whether they secure their creation so only they can see it, share it with specific people or groups, or broadcast it to the entire Mahala network (or back out to the internet), the individual is always in control.
Mahala is for Earning
Mahala comes with blockchain based crypto-currency built in, meaning that you’re compensated when you pass an encrypted message along or share content. Over time, this creates a secondary economic system within the community that simplifies saving and provides greater financial stability in areas that struggle economically.
Mahala is Secure
Security starts on the device with an encrypted chip, end-to-end encrypted traffic, and biometric security with fingerprint and facial recognition to keep your information safe. And every user is assigned a unique identifier—a “call sign”—for life.
Mahala protects your Privacy
Mahala doesn’t track what anyone does on the network, and usage data is only stored locally on the phone to improve the user experience.
Mahala is no larger than your Phone
Everything you need is already there, monitor, keyboard, solar cells, antenna—and because of the explosive growth of the worldwide smartphone market the individual components are less expensive than ever. Plus it’s portable enough to take everywhere you go, building out the network and connecting you to more information.
Mahala is not the Internet
But when individuals get access to the Internet, it can link in to access additional content. Mahala Network is a completely offline network, linking devices to each other instead of to a central network.
A Few Examples
Sibongile is a teacher at Sunshine Academy in Kwabutele township in rural South Africa. Her 40 students walk on average six miles to attend school for four hours each day. Mahala Network would allow Sibongile to publish her curriculum and lesson materials on a site for students to access even when they aren’t in the classroom. In addition, when Sibongile travels into town, she would be able to connect to a much larger network—and even the internet at a café—to make additional multimedia, books and other supplementary material available to her students.
Naresh is a seventh generation Nepalese farmer. He and several other farmers in his village work together as part of a cooperative to share resources and mitigate risk. Mahala Network would allow Naresh and the other farmers to communicate with neighboring villages about crop blight and other disease that today is difficult to predict or prevent. It also helps the farmers determine a fair price for their goods, something that today is determined by the inexperienced driver who collects the crops from several villages.
Victoria is a single, middle-aged woman with three children living in the Appalachian region of the United States. Her husband was a coal miner who died a few years ago from lung disease. Victoria makes money by selling homemade soap at a farmer’s market in a town 30 miles away. Mahala Network would give Victoria and her children access to a communication network and educational material to help them raise their standard of living. It would also provide a platform for Victoria to set up a small business page, letting her take orders which would help her to better manage her inventory and her finances.
Help Mahala Grow!
“The digital divide is proving stubbornly persistent in terms of access to broadband Internet, including the challenge of extending last-mile access to infrastructure to remote and rural communities”
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development
Mahala, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit in the United States. The primary aim of raising funding will be to target high impact communities around the world: in the Asian subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Appalachian region of the United States as well as interim communities like refugee camps. These deployments serve to help the most underserved communities by providing no-cost access to communication.
With initial success stories from high impact communities, the next objective will be to partner with governments, non-governmental and charitable organizations to increase the impact. These organizations can leverage their own resources to source, configure and distribute Mahala enabled devices to targeted populations. These could include areas impacted by disasters where normal communication services have been severely compromised, or areas plagued by intermittent crises that make existing communication services unreliable or cost-prohibitive.
Beyond the objective of empowering the unconnected populations, Mahala is committed to working with national, state and local governments and private enterprises to ensure that positive externalities continue to fuel the growth of the platform. Individuals or organizations supporting the collection or refurbishment of secondhand devices, technology training to install the software, and logistics to deliver the devices all represent potential markets with impact in otherwise under-developed or under-served areas.
Numerous studies have been conducted to assess the impact of information and communication technology in under-developed countries. As expected, the highest positive social and economic impacts were in the upper and middle classes due to the cost-prohibitive nature of the networks. Similarly in developed and developing nations, expanding telephone, HAM and cellular networks, as well as reduced cost of devices have all resulted in strong socio-economic benefits.
Mahala builds on this success through a unique approach to networking, marginalizing traditional approaches in favor of radical innovation to build organic, distributed networks in economically under or unserved areas and leverage existing hardware while reducing e-waste.
Mahala Network presents a very achievable approach: bringing pieces of existing and emerging technology together in a new way to solve the challenge of connecting the rest of the world.
Special thanks to:
- Mark Benioff’s Salesforce—famous for its 5-minute upgrade windows;
- Matt Mullenweg’s WordPress—powering more than a quarter of the internet;
- Paul Hainsworth’s Firechat and Meshkit, which provide a framework for encrypted offline peer-topeer messaging;
- Juan Benet and the Interplanetary File System, designed to provide a network for when mankind finally reaches the stars;
- Adam Fisk’s Lantern—a sponsorship based peer-topeer VPN for providing uncensored access to the internet;
- The Blockchain and associated cryptocurrencies that promise to establish a parallel financial system where value is created by participation;
- Craigslist—the largest internet company that survived the dot-com bubble despite being free and it’s apparent simplicity;
- and the Sakshat tablet—a $30 tablet developed for India using components from the original iPhone with the promise of a device in the hands of every Indian.