The short answer to the above question is: yes. However, it’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to require knowledge and infrastructure that not everyone has. That said, without the internet, the thousands of computers mining Bitcoin wouldn’t be able to validate transactions to update the network. This would make the network much slower than it already is, but a record of the latest Bitcoin transaction would remain on all of the computers involved in the network until the internet is restored.
Thankfully, transactions can also still be processed via alternative communication methods until the internet comes back as well. Those that fear the government could just shut off the internet to stop Bitcoin can rest easy as you can still send transactions without it. In this article, we’ll discuss just how that’s possible.
Three Ways to Use the Bitcoin Network Without Internet
In the event that the internet goes down, below are three ways in which you could still send Bitcoin transactions. As far as actually paying for Bitcoin without the internet, that’s a different subject and would depend on what you’re paying in.
In a world without the internet, SMS messaging could still be operational and it has been proven capable of sending Bitcoin transactions. Some cryptocurrency wallets, such as Samourai, let users execute Bitcoin transactions using SMS without having an Internet connection. SMS messages must be less than 160 characters, so transactional information gets split between multiple messages and then reassembled by the receiving end. The SMS service was developed specifically for those struggling with Bitcoin censorship. Below are two more SMS methods.
Pony Direct allows users to transmit Bitcoin network transactions via SMS, which is likely to still be operating if the internet goes down. Transactions can be sent via a “Pony Relay”, or you can set up your own number as an SMS relay. It doesn’t require too much special “knowledge” to create the proper SMS transactions. While the code for Pony Direct hasn’t been updated in a while, there is still a lot of validity in the concept and it can certainly be further developed.
A service very similar to Pony Direct goes by the name of SMSPushTX. It’s a solution to push Bitcoin transactions via SMS over Nexmo, an API. It’ss possible to use alternative API providers, such as Twilio, but finding one with a cheap virtual number like Nexmo is preferable.
Blockstream, a Canadian company founded in 2014, has been a leading provider of blockchain technologies and has remained on the forefront of work in cryptography and distributed systems. In 2017, they announced they had developed an option to send Bitcoin via satellites. Now referred to as the Blockstream Satellite, the network distributes the Bitcoin blockchain 24/7, protecting against network interruptions and providing areas without reliable internet connections with the opportunity to use Bitcoin.
Anyone with a small satellite receiver can then receive the Bitcoin blockchain on the ground. Blockstream even sells receivers that can be set up at home without much effort. This is a great option for those without reliable internet connections and a surefire way to send transactions when the internet is down.
In 2019, Bitcoin developers exchanged BTC using radio waves and Bitcoin’s layer 2 Lightning Network. There were two transactions that made, for lack of a better word, waves. The first was between Rodolfo Novak, co-founder of CoinKite and Samuel Patt, a Bitcoin activist. They sent Bitcoin from Toronto to Michigan during a snowstorm in February 2019.
The second was between Novak and Elaine Ou, a Bloomberg columnist based in San Francisco in March 2019. This was over 4000km and was a test of how far radio waves could send Bitcoin. These transactions proved that Bitcoin can be sent and received using a meshed radio network as long as you have an applicable antenna. This is a very interesting method.
Closing Thoughts: Always Good to Have a Backup
Frankly, before starting to write this article, I figured the answer to the question posed was no. It speaks volumes that Bitcoin enthusiasts have come up with not just one, but multiple ways to keep sending transactions even if there’s no internet available.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that developers, well, develop solutions for potential problems. Though hopefully these methods are never truly necessary for the masses to send BTC, it’s nice to know that there are solutions available.