Helium, a technology that uses blockchains and tokens to incentivize consumers and small businesses to run commercial telecommunications hubs, is launching a 5G version of its network.
Announced Tuesday, Helium is partnering with FreedomFi, a kind of do-it-yourself tech package for building 5G networks, so that participants can be paid to support the rollout of next-generation wireless networks, effectively by building their own mini cellular towers.
“What Helium has so far done with telecoms in the wireless space is almost like Airbnb enabling people to monetize their real estate in the form of a mini hotel,” Helium CEO Amir Haleem said in an interview. “Via our partnership with FreedomFi, we’ve learned there’s an enormous opportunity to build a 5G LTE network where every house can basically have a miniature cell tower that carriers can use to offload traffic anytime they’re near it.”
Blockchain-based decentralized economies have widened the gateway into industries in a way that can reward swarms of previously-uninvited participants, while also improving the fabric of such networks for the incumbents that operate on them.
Helium may be rare among Web 3 projects in that it’s attracted quite a few users.
The firm’s peer-to-peer internet of things (IoT) sensors – which are used for applications like keeping tabs on e-bikes, scooters or smart pet-collars – have gone from zero hotspots in 2019 to almost 30,000 today, with some 200,000 more already paid for and in the pipeline, according to Haleem.
Founded in 2013 and backed to the tune of $53 million by the likes of Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital, Helium has seen strong growth since first releasing its low power “LongFi” hardware-based nodes and mining units in Austin, Texas, a couple of years back.
The Helium FreedomFi combination will use Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS (not to be confused with Citizens Band radio made popular by truckers), a spectrum authorized by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in January 2020, to allow wireless carriers to deploy 5G mobile networks without having to acquire special licenses.
Helium and FreedomFi highlight a new use case for CBRS, one that delivers on the initiative’s promise of innovation and creativity, former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a statement.
“Turning consumer gateways into network distribution tools and merging with ultra-hot cryptocurrency – consistent with the companies’ plans – may just be the step needed to help supercharge private 5G deployment,” O’Rielly said. “Now we get to see if the market agrees.”
While people tend to think of 5G as delivering faster video streaming or making virtual reality more immersive, the biggest benefit relates to how its software-centric architecture will reduce operating expenses and ultimately help billions of people in emerging economies get connected.
“That might well be the biggest opportunity,” said FreedomFi CEO Boris Renski, adding:
“In the U.S. we are looking at carrier offload to make the networks bigger and better. But in the developing world, where there is no wireless network, you could imagine a whole universe of entrepreneurs that start their own wireless network businesses using this as the foundation and the technology.”
FreedomFi Gateways are now available for pre-order and are expected to ship in the third quarter of 2021.
Helium’s native token, HNT, is up 6,845% over the past year, according to CoinGecko, and is currently trading at $16.44.