Mesh networks are formed by wirelessly connecting clients such as laptops, smartphones, and other devices together via unlicensed radio frequencies without the need for a central ISP. In such a network, each device becomes a node, allowing direct peer-to-peer communication; some devices can also act as gateway nodes, connecting to the Internet and providing access to other devices. This arrangement has several potential advantages: mesh networks can be more reliable than those that rely on traditional infrastructure, offer redundancy, circumvent central control, self-organize, and amplify coverage with each new node added.
Althea is focused on expanding such networks in rural areas globally, where high-speed internet coverage is inconsistent, with centralized ISPs often lacking economic incentive to invest in infrastructure tailored to varying geographies. Broadly, Althea will incentivize communities to establish their own decentralized ISP, with user-owned hardware forwarding packets locally. In order to coordinate such efforts, Althea uses the Aragon governance framework to allow each community to establish a local Subnet DAO, which comprises a set of operating nodes and a group of local organizers. Each user node pays a periodic fee to the organizers, who are responsible for operations and helping others set up user and relay nodes in their homes. Althea networks are currently operating in several locations across the U.S. as well as two areas in Nigeria.
The Althea network has the following types of nodes, which could be combined into a single piece of hardware:
- User nodes use internet bandwidth and pay other nodes in a stablecoin to provide an efficient connection.
- Relay nodes forward traffic throughout the network and choose routes by bandwidth price and historical uptime.
- Gateway nodes are a subset of relay nodes that connect directly to non-Althea internet access points, often through backhaul services, earning tokens for their role in providing the root bandwidth to the network.
- Exit nodes connect solely to gateway nodes through VPN tunnels, serving as a secure exit point for all outgoing traffic for their network. Exit nodes perform most functions of a traditional ISP, such as maintaining legal standards for trafficked content, yet leave the work of routing packets entirely to the other types of nodes.
While Althea uses a stablecoin for all payments, its native token ALGT confers governance as well as block reward and transaction fee rights. Users of Althea are not required to hold ALGT. Althea will implement a new Delegated Proof of Stake blockchain as a Cosmos zone in 2020, which will enable interoperability with other blockchain protocols. Nodes on this blockchain will confirm transactions of both the ALGT governance token and a stablecoin, initially DAI, that is used for all bandwidth payments throughout the network. Holders of the governance token can delegate their stake to validators, both of whom earn transaction fees in the stablecoin, estimated at 5-10% of the total network revenue as well as benefit from the network's 7% annual inflation rate. Organizers who onboard other users can also earn ALGT tokens, thus providing an alternative method to operating hardware to earn network stake.
In order to broadly distribute network ownership and incentivize individuals to start local Althea Subnet DAOs, ALGT tokens will be airdropped through Republic until April 2020. This airdrop is technically an investment in a security token under Regulation Crowdfunding, though participants ultimately receive tokens for free. Althea has filed a Form C disclosure with the SEC and published a Token Purchase Agreement outlining distribution details, company information, and recipient rights. Within the industry, airdropping a security token under Reg CF is a unique approach, whereby Althea distributes governance tokens broadly in order to incentivize many community organizers to set up local networks.
Althea is led by CEO Jehan Tremback, an engineer who has been working on mesh networks through Althea and other organizations since 2013. Other founders include Justin Kilpatrick (previously Red Hat) and Deborah Simpier, Althea’s first user and organizer in the Pacific Northwest. Advisors include Matt Liston, Gnosis and Ethereum community member, Zaki Manian, Head of Research at Tendermint, and Yaniv Tal, co-founder of The Graph.