Open Garden launched its mesh networking platform at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2012. Since then, the company has gone through a few iterations and found unexpected success in its Firechat offline messaging service. Now, it’s ready for the next step in its evolution. The company now wants to make it easier for anybody with an Android phone to share their WiFi connections with anyone who is nearby. And to incentivize people to do so, the company plans to launch its own Ethereum token (called OG…) in early 2018.
The company bills this as the launch of a “decentralized Internet Service Provider (ISP).” You still need a regular ISP to become an Open Garden ISP, so I admit that the whole concept doesn’t quite seem right to me. Unsurprisingly, Open Garden CEO Paul Hainsworth (who took over from the company’s founded CEO in early 2016) doesn’t see it that way. “The concept of a decentralized ISP is entirely new,” he told me. “The traditional, centralized ISP is a one-to-many relationship between provider and customer. A decentralized ISP is the combination of millions of individual people, companies and products creating a new kind of network. These millions of people sharing their Internet are ISPs, tiny or large, and in aggregate they form a decentralized ISP.”
The argument here is that most people only use a small amount of their broadband connection’s bandwidth cap. So why not share this access with others and earn some OG in the process? While Open Garden argues that this is a totally new concept, the likes of Fon and others have long enabled WiFi sharing without the need for Ethereum tokens and mesh networks. Most have done so with mixed success, likely because few people actually want to share their Internet access.
A decentralized network like this can also only work if enough people participate. Open Garden is trying to jumpstart this process by using its FireChat app to bootstrap this process. The company says its messaging service has over 5 million registered users and they will form the basis for seeding this network. Over time, Open Garden also plans to add apps for iOS, Mac, Windows and set-top streaming boxes. “Project Open Garden, our open source project, will enable developers to build OG into their own apps and hardware solutions,” the company argues. “OG can be used by existing WiFi infrastructure owners – such as municipal WiFi, shopping malls, stadiums, airports, restaurants, and small businesses – to monetize their existing capital investment.”
And why use tokens (besides, I assume, that this is obviously a hip thing to do right now)? “Our intent is to enable regular consumers to buy Internet access without having to understand anything about crypto, blockchains or anything technical,” Hainsworth told me. He also argues that tokens are a good way to incentivize growth. “By issuing our own token, instead of just using Bitcoin or Ethereum, we can give away a very large percentage of the total tokens (or coins) in our economy to participants,” he noted. “We do this to incentivize network growth, user acquisition and retention. Incentives work at an individual level. Early adopters can earn additional bonus OG for being first to market, for example.”
So if all the incentive you ever needed to share your Internet connection with random strangers was a bit of Ethereum OG, then your dreams have come true. The Open Garden app is now available for download in the Google Play store.