The Helium Network already provides decentralized connections for the Internet of Things (IoT) and is positioned to do the same for 5G cellular network offloading, expanding 5G service availability for IoT devices and smartphones operating in the US Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) band—a band that offers both licensed and open use mobile data access. Helium hopes to partner with mobile network operators (MNOs) and mobile service wholesalers looking to augment their 5G networks.
Self-appointed as ‘The People’s Network,’ the existing LoRa-based Helium Network is live with 28,000+ hotspots devices deployed in over 3,800 cities worldwide, and there are 200,000+ hotspot devices on backorder from various manufacturers.
Helium aims to take that experience and apply it to a new tier of 5G connectivity that is enabled by the unique CBRS spectrum, 3550 MHz-3700 MHz, which the US Federal Communications Commission has made available on three tiers of access, two of which are open to non-government users. Though the Priority Access level is licensed, General Authorized Access permits open access for the widest group of potential users and use cases.
Compatible gateways will be key for Helium
Using gateways from Helium partner FreedomFi, hotspot hosts – including individual consumers – will have the option to earn Helium’s own HNT cryptocurrency, in part by offloading carrier cellular traffic to their 5G hotspots. The FreedomFi Gateways will be compatible with Helium’s existing open-source blockchain and IoT network and will by default act as a Helium hotspot, also mining rewards for proof of coverage and data transfers on the IoT network.
The blockchain is key to Helium’s proof of coverage. As the network uses challenger hotspots to interrogate other hotspots to confirm their location and coverage, the blockchain is constantly receiving and updating information regarding the quality of the network. Additionally, the blockchain underpins Helium’s HNT cryptocurrency.
Helium’s HNT is a two-token system, with hosts mining the cryptocurrency while users pay for connectivity via data credits, which can be acquired by burning HNT cryptocurrency or paying via credit card. The price of a data credit is fixed at fixed at $0.00001, and each data credit equals 24 bytes of payload. Hotspot owners earn HNT for keeping their gateway available and transferring device data. HNTs can be traded for data credits or converted to cash via a bitcoin exchange such as Binance.
Cryptocurrency earnings come at a cost
To earn HNT from the new 5G service, a hotspot host will need to buy a FreedomFi Gateway and at least one CBRS-compatible radio. The FreedomFi Gateways are expected to carry a production cost of $500 and the CBRS radios will cost $500-$5,000 each.
FreedomFi intends to ship hotspots to those on its reservation list in September 2021. Due to reliance on the U.S.-only CBRS band, the Helium 5G Network will initially be restricted to select U.S. cities, as yet unspecified. However, FreedomFi expects to enable data offloading using WiFi access points in Q1 2022 via a remote software update to the FreedomFi Gateway. This will allow for expansion of mobile data offloading to other nations and spectrum bands in 2022.