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I am considering working on giving Africans access to trade using Bitcoins.

In many ways, parts of Africa is more developed when it comes to mobile payments than the west. The success of M-PESA confirms this. Their security is based upon a special SIM card (see Step 1 in this getting-started guide).

My question

Would it be possible to set up a service where one could send and receive Bitcoins securely via SMS? An additional condition to this question is that the SMS could be sent from a good old crowbar mobile phone without any access to a computer to perform encryption. One should also notice that postal services in these countries should be considered insecure.

Motivation

My motivation for this project is the heavy costs involved with making an overseas transaction to an individual in Kenya, because M-PESA only accepts transactions from oversees using Western Union. This is important because I know that there are huge flows of money going from Africans (and more so Asians) in Western countries to their family-members at home.

Additional points

It should be noted that one can send SMS for free amongst others to Kenya via Google SMS. Their only condition is that the receiver responds to the SMS occasionally in order to avoid it getting used for spam.

Currencies in some African countries are very unstable (for example in Zimbabwe), so the Bitcoin currency could maybe be considered a "hard currency" compared to the local ones.

  • 2
    No need to edit the title to be "Solved: ". This is not the forums - just used the accept & voting buttons :) – ripper234 Sep 1 '11 at 11:17
  • @ripper234 I believe it is good, so people know that it is currently possible to send Bitcoins via SMS. – David Sep 1 '11 at 11:28
  • So edit the title to be "How can I send Bitcoins via SMS?" – ripper234 Sep 1 '11 at 11:30
  • @ripper234 Ok. I give up! ;) – David Sep 1 '11 at 11:31
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    Ah, the power of a community-edited site :) – ripper234 Sep 1 '11 at 11:32
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Just an account on http://phoneco.in/ because thats exactly what the service does. [Update: Phoneco.in is defunct.]

Update: A new service as well to check out. http://dialcoin.com/ [DialCoin's site is up yet but has suspending service.]

  • Wow! That was spot on! Now I just need to figure out how to use them to send money to African mobiles. – David Sep 1 '11 at 10:53
  • +1 for an excellent link. If I could +=100 I would for that is a very important service. – Gary Rowe Sep 1 '11 at 12:23
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    Unfortunately phoneco is now dead, and dialcoin apparently doesn't support Kenya. – o0'. Apr 4 '12 at 22:46
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    Both of those websites appear to be dead. – ThePiachu Apr 13 '12 at 8:19
  • None of these links work anymore. – David Apr 13 '12 at 9:44
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You can make bitcoin transaction via SMS because it's just couple hunders of symbols, but it requires internet connection to verify transaction against double spend attack. You can setup man-in-the-middle that will hold customer's bitcoins in it's database and sell or buy bitcoins for them. Customers would be able to add or withdraw fiat currency via SMS and send bitcoins via internet website. But if you want to give users control of their accounts via SMS then you would have to develop application and distribute your own SIM card.

  • I like the idea of man-in-the-middle, but it would put severe constraints upon such a solution in remote areas with kilometers to walk to get to an internet connection. Using your man-in-the-middle idea, we now only need to invent a way to update the "accounts registered in it's database" via SMS. – David Sep 1 '11 at 9:20
  • Please ask me to clarify again if I am still not making sense. – David Sep 1 '11 at 9:36
  • @David, I made some adjustments to the answer, hope that helps. – Serith Sep 1 '11 at 9:45
  • Ok. Thank you! I am hoping that others might find a way around having to distribute a special SIM card. – David Sep 1 '11 at 9:51
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As of April 2012, the two methods are:

What countries is the service available in? Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America

and

For the latest, search "SMS" on:

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the question is how old are the mobile phones. if they have J2Me it would be possible. you just need a sms 2 btc gateway that stores the blocks like BCCAPI and allow users transactions. and a j2me app thats hold the privat key and with the possibility to send and recive sms. (given by the j2me api)

you would need do develop this both software, and test it if it is practical usable on most of the african mobile phones

greetings treaki

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Coinapult's SMS wallet is currently only available in the U.S. and Canada but it works as you describe -- usable for a transaction where either or both parties are using a feature phone with only SMS / text messaging service (i.e., no other data service necessary).

Coinapult may be adding support elsewhere, but their current freemium business model might need revision to be feasible in regions where the text message costs are higher.

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http://www.37coins will work. Presently there are 37coins text gateways in over 14 countries for sending/receiving bitcoin by text (SMS) and more can be added if you have an extra cell phone. See their site on section about adding a gateway. Using the system is easy. You can open a wallet by texting your cell phone number to the appropriate gateway in your country. Once you have a wallet you can follow the short text prompts listed on the site to send bitcoin to your wallet and you can withdrawl (send) bitcoin via text to another bitcoin wallet. You can do this without a browser, internet connection or smart phone. You can use an older version cell phone and its texting capabilities.

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