At its core, Althea is a tool for solving the “last mile” problem for broadband internet. The “last mile” refers to the difficult and costly final leg of connecting a user to an internet exchange, often less than 10 miles. Althea seeks to solve this problem with its innovative technology that can be used to design, deploy and manage an ISP or modernize / solve problems with an existing one. Althea aims to replace centralized ISPs with a competitive market of individuals and businesses participating in one decentralized network with automated revenue sharing.
While most often discussed as a mesh network, both traditional hub and spoke and modern mesh network topologies are supported. The Althea network is made of four primary types of routers.
Endpoint Routers - In a traditional ISP, endpoint routers would be used by the individual end user. However, instead of being tied to one ISP, endpoint routers in the Althea network pay for service from its neighbors, prioritizing quality and cost effective service to best serve the end user.
Endpoint routers may also be paid by other routers to forward traffic, but without the specialized hardware and positioning seen in other other Althea routers, the income is expected to be relatively small. Nonetheless, the occasional payout to the user router is a benefit unheard of in legacy telco providers.
Relay Routers - These routers are installed by people who want to earn money by forwarding internet traffic (connectivity providers). These will typically be more powerful routers and may be placed in advantageous locations with a good line of sight to other routers.
Gateway Routers - Gateway routers are like relay routers, but they are connected to a source of cheap internet bandwidth such as an internet exchange, fiber connection, or even a business-grade connection from a conventional ISP. They act as a connection from Althea’s physical layer to the outside internet. However, they are shielded from having to take legal responsibility for traffic on the network by the exit routers.
Exit Routers - Exit routers take on a bulk of the work needed for the Althea network to run smoothly. These routers serve as an endpoint to verify quality metrics which fuels the Althea routing protocol. Exit routers also take on the legal role of an ISP, allowing gateway routers to act as pure providers of bandwidth.
The Althea routing protocol uses well established routing protocols used by traditional ISPs as its base. This technology checks each router along a particular route for service quality and provides a composite score to be compared to other potential routes. Thus, Althea is able to route its service through the routers offering the best quality of service for the end user.
While these routing protocols serve as a good base for our network, they were intended for traditional ISPs, where all routers are centrally owned. One potential downside to Althea’s decentralized network is malicious routers, that is routers that advertise a higher quality of service than they can provide. By providing false data regarding its service quality, a malicious router could potentially route more business its way. To avoid this issue, Althea adds an accuracy score to its calculation for the best possible route. Periodically, the Althea routing protocol tests neighboring routers, confirming the advertised quality of service matches the returned quality of service.
Finally, since routers are owned by individuals or businesses being paid for providing their service, a price metric must be introduced. This works much the same as the quality metric described above, but instead of checking for the route with the best possible service, the route with the cheapest service is found.
When determining a final route for service, the quality, accuracy and price scores are combined so Althea may provide the end user with service of the highest quality and lowest price. Internet users within the Althea network can even set their quality vs. price preferences (ie: sacrificing some quality for the cheapest possible internet or deprioritizing price to ensure the highest quality internet) with a sliding scale on the Althea Dashboard.
The backbone of Althea’s decentralized network is individual routers paying their neighbors to forward service. Althea does this with blockchain technology and is the reason each router in the Althea network needs its own wallet and corresponding Network Organizer Payment Address (Net Org Address).
Once the best possible route for service has been determined, channels are created between each router in the route. Each channel stores the Net Org Address of the router on either end of the channel, as well as a completely unique channel ID. Funds in the form of Althea tokens are sent from the router paying for service and locked up in the channel. After a holding period, the funds are distributed to the router providing service.