19 Dec Exploring Online Payments for Africa with Lightning Network and QR Codes

I had a most en”lightning” pop in to a friend of mine who has built a bitcoin ATM or coin-vending machine that accepts coins in exchange for satoshis issued on the lightning network to the wallet of your choice. Thank you to Matt of https://twitter.com/21isenough. What a novel concept, which initially I thought was for fun, but now having seen it, could have some fantastically widespread impacts on adoption of crypto and feeder technologies for payments.

Lightning ATM

How it works: You insert coins in the slot . . we used between 2 and 50 euro cents . . and the elegant electronic ink display tells you how many satoshis you get back. You download a lightning wallet to your phone (I did Blue Wallet which took a few seconds), click “create invoice” for the amount of satoshis’ offered, click “receive”, the phone displays a QR code which you put in front of the machine camera, it scans your QR code and the satoshis magically appear in your Blue Wallet. Such a simple payment experience. From scratch!

The idea behind Matt’s blackbox is that it could be placed in stores whereby customers could have the novelty of buying satoshis with their coins and this could generate change for the shop owner. For example this morning I bought an espresso which cost me 60c and the owner reluctantly gave me change for my 10 euros. Customers get to learn about satoshis, they start investing every time they buy a coffee, and shops get a constant flow of change. A new payment experience for the nation. 

Zeek the Geek who came with me for the demo suggested that these could be used at markets whereby each stall has, let’s call it “BoB”, and customers can pay and the independent seller doesn’t have to worry about getting payment. Doesn’t have to set up a third party device to get paid. The marketplace provides people with the box and they can set it up themselves. Independent vendors across Africa could have a novel and simple nonbankrelated way to get paid.  

I suggested that an evolved version could be that the shopowner instead of giving back coins could issue their patrons with change in satoshis via the machine. Again, people get to learn about bitcoin and satoshis, and a new and easier form of payment, and get to build up a store of permissionless, decentralised, immutable, uncensorable, hard digital currency :). Imagine how sponsored "BoB" and cashbacks to African consumers could send satoshis viral across the continent.   

I like QR codes as a payment connection. I think they could become mainstream for online payment developments across Africa. Nice and simple. Scan and pay. QR codes don’t care what you have backing them . . satoshis, bitcoins, naira, cards, mobile money . . it works with them all. So at the checkout, scan the QR code and it transfers the value from wallet to wallet in whatever currency or payment method you choose to have enabled. 

Matt also showed me how you can have a Telegram Lightning wallet, which is incredible . . it can be linked online to the “BoB” and stores your satoshis in a Telegram wallet of your own. They can be transferred to and from clients that way using simple, userfriendly commands. Super easy and super smooth. No bank, no intervention, confidential, always in the palm of your hand, and in your messaging app you use all day. Now this is real money of the internet.  

For a merchant is it as simple as generating a QRcode at the checkout, which a customer scans, which transfers the satoshis from her own wallet to the merchant’s Telegram wallet (held by him or by us) and then we store and forward them to cash out as and when necessary?  The mind boggles..  

I’m still learning about all of this, so forgive me if I’ve missed some understandings in this blog. This whole "BoB" experience took literally 15 minutes to understand and seconds to transact. I was completely blown away as to how far this technology has gone already and how simple and easy the user experience was. 

Back to the real world of mass adoption of card and mobile payments across Africa :). Click here for us to help you get paid across Africa with card and mobile money.