Signal Over Noise: How Emerging Markets Are Powering Lightning Growth
5 June 2023
2 min read
Welcome to the latest edition of the Lightning Lab, a newsletter filled with Lightning Network updates, community coverage, and, of course, memes! In this issue, we discuss how Lightning continues to grow in emerging markets especially, and as always highlight a host of exciting community updates.
Last month we hosted the first public Taro Community Call, and were blown away by the amount of attendees and the excitement on the call for building on bitcoin! It was particularly interesting to see the dedicated focus of bitcoin builders contrasted against the noise in the broader crypto sphere. The bitcoin and Lightning communities are bringing sound money to the world by building sound protocols. The value this focus provides becomes apparent in the depths of bear markets, when those who have been cutting corners are exposed. If the last couple months of chaos in the broader crypto industry have been disappointing, give sound money and sound protocols a try: we’re hiring.
Signal Over Noise
Though the Western-centric crypto news cycle these past few months has been dominated by halted withdrawals, bankruptcy, and fraud, the global Lightning community continues to grow with a relentless focus on solving real problems for real people. In BTC terms, public network capacity increased 50% in 2022, and a staggering 373% since January 2021.
Importantly, this growth is especially occurring in emerging markets, from users that are not loud on Twitter, and may not even speak English. This month has seen several announcements on that front which we are excited to highlight here.
First, Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark joined the African bitcoin community in Ghana at the inaugural Africa Bitcoin Conference. She spoke about how by being early adopters of bitcoin and Lightning, African bitcoiners are ahead of the curve by leapfrogging legacy fiat payment rails. It was amazing to see the enthusiasm for bitcoin amongst this crowd, and to meet so many new communities, entrepreneurs, and bitcoin businesses from across the continent!
For instance, Bitcoin Mountain is a Bitcoin Beach-inspired community based in Cameroon. They built a community-focused Lightning wallet in Bolt.Fun’s Legends of Lightning tournament. The African continent has experienced a huge amount of Lightning growth over the past 18 months, with Bitcoin Mountain joining other home-grown communities like South Africa’s Bitcoin Ekasi and Bitcoin Witsand, the Congo’s Kiveclair, and Nigeria’s Bitcoin Village. Africa Free Routing even set up Lagos, Nigeria’s first public routing node! These communities are joined by well-known Lightning businesses like Paxful and Bitnob, with new ones like Machankura and CryptoConvert popping up left and right!
Lightning Labs Infrastructure Engineer Elle Mouton even went viral in early November by tweeting this video of paying for groceries with Lightning at Pick n Pay, one of the largest retailers in South Africa, which is piloting a Lightning integration with CryptoConvert.
Next, Bitcoin Beach Vietnam is another new Lightning-focused community powered by Neutronpay, the Vietnam-based Lightning solution for merchants. They’re organizing the first-ever Southeast Asian Lightning conference in Danang, Vietnam, on March 23-24, 2023. The Lightning community in this region is much bigger than most understand: one Thailand-based Facebook group of Lightning enthusiasts already tallies over 11k members, the Chiang Mai Lightning meetup (birthplace of Umbrel) celebrated its fourth anniversary in August, the Build on Bitcoin Space in Bangkok is hosting workshops on running Lightning nodes and on Taro, and, finally, Bitcoin Island in the Philippines (powered by Pouch, who is hosting the Bitcoin Island Retreat March 27-29) has onboarded hundreds of merchants to the Lightning Network in just a few short months of operations! We’re incredibly excited to meet these communities in person and hear about how they’re bringing bitcoin to billions. 🚀
Finally, the Latin American Lightning community really flexed its strength as 2022 came to a close by hosting three major events: Satsconf in São Paulo, Brazil (organized by Lightning Labs’ own Lucas Ferreira!), Labitconf in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Adopting Bitcoin in El Salvador. Of course, the Bitcoin Beach community in El Zonte, El Salvador is the original emerging market Lightning community that inspired the world, but it has been joined by Guatemala’s Bitcoin Lake, Costa Rica’s Bitcoin Jungle, and Brazil’s Bitcoin Beach BR. Online communities like Latinodos and Noderunners Brasil have been spun up to help Lightning node operators, and educational programs like Torogoz, Vinteum, and Libreria de Satoshi have started onboarding new developers to Bitcoin and Lightning. Last but certainly not least, Latin American Lightning businesses like El Salvador’s Bitcoin Beach Wallet, DitoPay, Tainkii, K1 Kioskos Automáticos, and Rapaygo, Guatemala’s Ibex Mercado and Osmo Wallet, Mexico’s Tauros, Colombia’s Tatacoa, Argentina’s Muun Wallet, Kripton Market, Lemon, Belo, fiwind, and Southxchange, Brazil’s Bipa,and Kubbent, Chile’s Buda, and others continue to push adoption forward. What an amazing community! 🔥
News & Updates
River launched River Lightning Services (RLS), a Lightning network gateway designed to power the next generation of payments, and the Chivo wallet in El Salvador is built on their platform. We love new options for developers looking to build on Lightning!
ZEBEDEE announced NBD, their open source arm focused on building Bitcoin/LN open source projects, led by fiatjaf. NBD is maintaining a wide collection of projects used in the ecosystem, kudos for supporting the community!
Synota, a Bitcoin technology company providing transactional flexibility and instant settlement via the Lightning Network to the energy industry, announced it has raised a $3M seed round led by Ego Death Capital.
Kollider, the LN-native derivatives exchange, announced their official public launch and a $2.4M seed round. In addition to their exchange, Kollider also offers a Lightning wallet with synthetic stablecoins, allowing users to hold balances in USD and EUR.
Lightning Landscape is a new tool that organizes over 1,400 companies, open source projects, and communities in the Lightning ecosystem in one searchable platform. Builders, investors, and researchers can now explore the entire Lightning space with a few clicks, very cool!
Wavlake, a platform that helps musicians and artists get paid through the Lightning Network, raised a pre-seed round from Trammell Venture Partner and Hivemind Ventures to help grow their platform.
🤯 Viker, a play-to-earn mobile games studio powered by ZEBEDEE’s Lightning infrastructure, has already seen over 80 million transactions across 100 countries. Wow! Recently they announced two new games with LN rewards: Bitcoin Chess and Bitcoin Scratch.
💪 Kevin Rookeshared some routing volume stats from a few big routing nodes in September. River routed ~640 BTC (1.4x their public capacity), ZFR routed ~376 BTC (4x their p.c.), LN Markets routed ~45 BTC (1.6x their p.c.), etc.
🍠 Coinshares published a report on Taro, detailing the history of asset creation on Bitcoin, how Taro works, its place in the Bitcoin tech stack, and its potentials and risks.
⚡️ Bolt.fun’s Legends of Lightning hackathon included 250+ makers across 73 projects who built new wallets, onboarding services, educational platforms, and cool WebLN experiments. They crowned a winner for each of their two tracks: Lightsats, a beautiful Lightning-first onboarding tool for pre-coiners, for “Global Adoption,” and AgriMint, a self-sovereign micro-banking solution for community savings groups built on bitcoin, Lightning, and Fedimint, for “Building for Africa.”
🌍 “Send Globally” is a new feature announced by Strike and Bitnob during the Africa Bitcoin Conference that allows users to easily send money between the US and any user with a phone number-based mobile money account in a number of African countries. A few days later, Coincorner announced the same feature for the UK in partnership with Bitnob, and later on a connection with Pouch, for remittances to the Philippines. Stay tuned for support for other countries and currencies.
👁️ Bolt.Observer released their new LiquidOps tool, which includes a node operations dashboard, and an alerting agent. They also added new parameters to their explorer that measure how well-positioned a node is in the Lightning Network. And finally, they shipped Lightning Vault, a secrets manager for macaroons and other Lightning node authentication tokens on AWS cloud.
📞 Machankura presented their architecture at Adopting Bitcoin, and blew attendees’ minds with the statistic that 90% of payments on the African continent use USSD, the text-based mobile phone communication service that Machankura has connected with Lightning technology. Wow!
📒 Blockspaces announced an integration between their non-custodial Lightning Network merchant software offering and QuickBooks, the popular business accounting system. Sats-based accounting is here to stay!
2️⃣ Geyser Grants Round #2 is accepting applications until the end of January. This time, the themes are Visual Arts, Translations, and Community & Meetups. Projects on Geyser can now receive contributions directly to their Lightning addresses.
🗺 Wallet of Satoshi has integrated with BTC Maps, the crowdsourced map displaying all the places worldwide that accept bitcoin and Lightning payments, allowing users to more easily discover places to spend their sats and promote the circular economy!
⛓ Coincorner produced yet another excellent video of a Lightning payment chain, with team members in the UK paying each other in seconds all with different Lightning apps before buying coffee for a friend over video all the way in El Salvador. Amazing!
🤖 René Aaronbuilt a payment module that allows existing vending machines to be equipped with the ability to generate invoices and receive Lightning payments.
🐺 Wolf, NYDIG’s LN/Taro startup accelerator, launched their website and has accepted companies for their first cohort. We are excited to see what Wolf participants are building!
📊 LN Markets added an automatic withdrawals feature to their Lightning-native exchange. Users can now direct LN Markets to auto withdraw to a Lightning Address after taking profit, executing a stop loss, or exercising options.
🤑 LN Capital released a new version of TORQ, a capital management tool for routing nodes. The v.0.16.3 lets users organize their routing nodes with tags, inspect channels with a new pop-out modal, and more.
🌩 Zeusreleased a new version of their mobile app which allows users to connect their LND nodes using Lightning Node Connect (LNC). They also introduced Echo, a new Podcasting 2.0 web player that connects to your node via LNC.
🔥 NitroWord is a new game built with the Lightning Network. Players win sats when they crack seed phrases derived from the preimage of a payment they made to play the game, which makes it provably fair.
💡 Lucent Labs, a new Bitcoin and Lightning infrastructure provider, announced two products: Bolt Node, that allows users to set up and scale bitcoin native infrastructure dynamically, and Bitcoin Cache, for treasury/custody infrastructure.
🥳 Coinos, creators of a Lightning web wallet, celebrated their 10th anniversary with a redesign. They recently shifted their focus to merchant adoption and have been improving their UX for that use case.
🛒 LNBitsstarted a shop, where people can buy the parts to assemble their LNBits hardware wallet, LNPoS, BitcoinSwitch Candy Dispenser, and more.
📝 Velas Commercepublished a great guide with a checklist Lightning node operators can follow when troubleshooting their nodes.
How Emerging Markets Are Powering Lightning Growth
Lightning adoption continues to grow the fastest in emerging markets, and specifically the regions of Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. Answering the question “why” is actually a fairly straightforward two part endeavor.
First, Chief Strategy Officer of the Human Rights Foundation Alex Gladstein tweeted the above chart which shows the percentage of Internet users aged 16 to 64 who own some form of cryptocurrency, according to GWI.com. Countries we explicitly highlighted above like Argentina, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, and Nigeria all have ownership percentages of 20% or greater. That’s a full 5% higher than the US, 8% greater than the worldwide average, and 10-12% greater than Western European countries like Germany and France. This means there are potentially millions more bitcoin owners in emerging markets than in the developed countries that most “crypto” news is focused on.
Why is this the case? As Gladstein opined above, the people in these markets do not need to be convinced of the ills of fiat currency, they have generations of lived experience with currency failures, hyperinflation, bank bail-ins, and all of the catastrophic downsides of fiat that the developed world has been lucky to avoid for the last several decades. Bitcoin Core Developer Gloria Zhao described this well after visiting Buenos Aires for Labitconf in November.
So the first part of the answer to “why is Lightning growing fastest in emerging markets” is that people in those regions are adopting bitcoin at the fastest rates because they intuitively understand the value proposition of a money separated from state control. The second part of the answer comes from CEO Elizabeth Stark: “necessity is the mother of adoption.”
Nearly all of our conversations with Lightning users in emerging markets center around the fact that using fiat payment rails in these areas is a nightmarish experience. High fees (especially when transferring internationally), consistent outages, censored payments, and more are the norm in these regions instead of the exception like they are in the developed world. Lightning today provides fees on the order of 1-20 bps (10-100x lower than fiat rails), with constant uptime, uncensorable payments, and provides the exact same experience whether users are buying groceries locally, or tipping a creator internationally. For a wide swath of emerging markets payments use cases, Lightning is already better than legacy payment rails, and international users are adopting it out of necessity.
One unique way that Lightning allows businesses to tap into this demand is by enabling the permissionless earning of bitcoin. Stakwork is a globally accessible, Lightning-powered Mechanical Turk, breaking down business processes like preparing images for machine learning algorithms into microtasks, and paying an always-on network of crowdsourced workers via Lightning for completing each of those microtasks. These workers are joining Stakwork out of necessity, in order to earn money in their spare time, and end up adopting the Lightning Network for payments without even initially realizing it.
Companies like ZEBEDEE and Thndr Games in the Lightning gaming community experience a similar phenomenon, as an outsized portion of users are based in emerging markets, play the games to earn money (and because they’re fun, of course!), and then adopt the Lightning Network to actually use their earnings to pay bills, buy groceries, etc.
So in conclusion, why do we see such strong Lightning adoption in emerging markets? Because 1) the users want a currency alternative to their local fiat, as they have significant experience with all the downsides of fiat currency that the developed world has largely been spared of and 2) because necessity is the mother of adoption, and these users need the unique earning and spending experience that Lightning has to offer.
Imagine what adoption will look like when Taro brings stablecoins into the mix. 🔜
Lightning Labs News
After the initial launch of the alpha daemon for the Taro protocol, the community dove right in to play with the code and give invaluable feedback. Based on that feedback and some known issues, we released a new version of Taro (v0.1.1). This minor release includes a series of bug fixes and the ability to send "full value assets", enabling the sending of entire amounts of an asset without a change address/split. Keep an eye out for the next major 0.2 milestone, and a mainnet release soon. 👀
In the world of Lightning Terminal, the latest release included updates to the Pool experience to simplify the ability to submit bids into the market and redeem sidecar channels. With the new Pool order wizard, node operators who want to increase their inbound can more easily submit bids.
On the LND front, version 0.15.5 is the latest release with important bug fixes, and 0.16 will be coming soon with Taproot channels among other features. We very strongly urge everyone to upgrade to 0.15.5 (recommended) or 0.15.4 as they contain critical security fixes. Prior versions are not safe as they were affected by two bugs that would cause node operators to desync from the bitcoin blockchain.
Finally, the new Pool release moves the product into beta with useful features to help builders and Lightning companies create a smoother Lightning UX in order to better meet user needs, namely zero confirmation channels and sends, plus unannounced channels.
Are you a security engineer with experience in securing web, Bitcoin, and other public-facing network services, penetration testing, and both automated and manual source code security reviews? We are hiring for a Security Engineer!
Or are you an experienced software engineer who embraces the DevOps mindset and wants to improve the Lightning developer experience? We are hiring for a Platform Engineer!