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Helium - Another IoT Kid on the Block

We looked at the number of IoT devices on The 3G4G Blog post yesterday. As you may have already noticed, the number of unlicensed IoT devices are growing as well.

The Helium network is a decentralized wireless network that enables devices anywhere in the world to wirelessly connect to the Internet and geolocate themselves without the need for power-hungry satellite location hardware or expensive cellular plans. 

Helium uses an open-source LongFi architecture, which combines the LoRaWAN wireless protocol and the Helium blockchain. Hotspots also acts as miners on the Helium blockchain so owners can earn a new cryptocurrency (HNT), for building the network and transferring IoT device data.

The Helium whitepaper says:

Powering the Helium network is a blockchain with a native protocol token incentivizing a two sided marketplace between coverage providers and coverage consumers. With the introduction of a blockchain, we inject decentralization into an industry currently controlled by monopolies. The result is that wireless network coverage becomes a commodity, fueled by competition, available anywhere in the world, at a fraction of current costs.

We think this introductory video is a good one to understand the basics.

The reason we are talking about Helium is because they just announced reaching a new milestone of 200K hotspots being deployed. 

Light Reading has a nice detailed summary of Helium in this article. Selected extract as follows:

Using a cryptocurrency it created called HNT, Helium figured out a way to reward its users for building a wireless network. The company started with the LoRa standard for Internet of Things (IoT) communications, which works in a slice of the unlicensed 900MHz band. The equipment is relatively cheap, and the spectrum is free to use.

Today, Helium counts around 190,000 LoRa transmission sites in dozens of countries around the globe. More than 50,000 of those sites were activated in the past 30 days.

And here's the crazy thing: You can see all of Helium's transmission sites and users on its website, and how much money they've made so far. For example, Precise Clear Spider (which I suspect is not the person's real name) lives very close to me in Denver and has made $44 in the past 30 days by operating a LoRa transmitter.

Helium users get paid in the network’s HNT cryptocurrency based on the amount of traffic that travels over their transmission sites. The Helium customers generating that traffic span the gamut: Recent ones include international tracking and logistics provider Hoopo, smart parking company Nobel Systems and water leak detection provider NOWi.

These companies basically buy HNT in order to make use of the LoRa network that Helium's users are building.

Today, the HNT cryptocurrency is trading at around $18 with a market cap of almost $2 billion. According to one crypto-tracking source, it's ranked 61st in overall cryptocurrency value, below the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum.

To be clear, Helium isn't the first company to attempt to encourage individual users to create their own wireless network. There have been a number of other attempts – ranging from Spain's Fon to Google's new Orion effort – to encourage individual Wi-Fi hotspot operators to aggregate their own global access network.

However, those efforts do not provide the clarity that Helium does, nor are they leveraging the blockchain technology that helps Helium to authenticate coverage areas and traffic settlements.

In fact, the power of a blockchain ledger is just now starting to trickle into the global wireless industry. For example, the GSMA trade association recently announced a new blockchain network designed for the global roaming and settlement process.

And here's the final part of Helium's story: It's getting ready to step into 5G. Helium and its partners are preparing to start shipping small cells that can transmit 5G signals in the unlicensed 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band.

Based on pre-orders and overall demand, vendor FreedomFi is predicting the Helium 5G network could span fully 40,000 small cells by the end of 2022. That would make it bigger than Verizon's small cell network, which is expected to reach 30,000 by the end of this year.

Everyday smartphone users won't be able to roam onto Helium's 5G network. Instead, they will need a CBRS-capable phone and a special eSIM card to access the network. GigSky – an MVNO that aggregates telecom networks around the world – is the first company that plans to sell consumer and enterprise access to Helium's 5G network.

You may want to check the complete article out here.

While there are good news stories of people making decent money out of hosting the transmitter sites, and it looks good on amount of money being spent each day, there are also complaints that some users are gaming the system while many others are just unable to get the transmitters due to very high demand.

Anyway, once it's past the teething issues, it remains to be seen if Helium can crack it long term where many others have either failed or just given up.

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