Bitcoin ATMs in El Salvador are Getting a Lightning Network Upgrade

By Decrypt November 09, 2023 In ATMs, Bitcoin, El Salvador

Bitcoin ATM providers Athena and Genesis Coin today announced that they were installing the technology on 100 machines across the tiny Central American country by the end of next month. The remaining machines will then have the technology installed in the first quarter of 2024.

The Lightning Network—or Lightning—is a second-layer solution which goes on top of the main Bitcoin network to allow users to send and receive the cryptocurrency quickly and cheaply. A number of wallets and crypto exchanges have it enabled.

Lightning was supposed to hit El Salvador back in 2021 via payments app Strike, which had planned to help the Salvadoran government get citizens using Bitcoin. But the company backed out of the project. Strike has since moved its headquarters to El Salvador.

Genesis Coin’s president and chief strategist Doug Carillo said in the announcement that the move will “allow Salvadorans to keep more money in their pocket and enable smaller and potentially more frequent transactions.”

Bitcoin ATMs are machines which allow users to buy and sell Bitcoin. There are 215 machines scattered around El Salvador, according to Coin ATM Radar data.

Many of the ATMs are made by Chivo, the Salvadoran government’s Bitcoin wallet brand. With Lightning installed on them, the idea is that users will be able to buy or sell crypto with smaller fees.

El Salvador made the asset legal tender in 2021. The country’s social media savvy leader, Nayib Bukele, came up with the idea and announced it at the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami.

Salvadorans were gifted $30 in Bitcoin as part of the move; they received the cryptocurrency via Chivo wallets they had installed on their phones or by visiting Bitcoin ATMs.

When Decrypt visited El Salvador in 2021, not many businesses were accepting the cryptocurrency—apart from major franchises like McDonald’s and Starbucks—and Salvadorans told us that they had cashed out their free Bitcoin to pay for goods.

Although President Bukele is popular in El Salvador—and one of the most liked presidents in the region—Bitcoin hasn’t really taken off in the tiny nation, according to surveys.

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