About 9 months ago my friend Adam from MP Antenna called me up to share his excited and shocked findings with me. He had purchased this thing called a Helium miner. He plugged it in, let it run, and largely forgot about it. A few months later, a few thousand dollars of Helium Token were in his account.
When Helium started down the path of “The People’s Network” to setup a decentralized global LoRaWAN network to support IoT devices, which incentivizes it’s operators with mining Helium Tokens ($HNT) it signaled something that *may* actually work. In Adam’s case, it was starting to show some benefit.
Now, with 258,000 (and counting!) hotspots around the globe, it’s starting to look like something more than just a spark or have the allure of a flicker of a flame. What started in Austin in 2019 with 150 hotspots is now one of the fastest growing wireless networks. Ever.
If IOT isn’t really your bag, stay tuned. Next they’re taking on decentralizing 5G.
Here’s the quick idea: you get a device from their partner FreedomFi, plug it in, and it offers up a 5G signal to the area around your house. The more people that use it, the more tokens you can mine, the more HNT you earn. You share out your bandwidth, your neighbors get to use it, you get paid. Pretty simple.
So simple in fact that Dish Network just announced that they are partnering with Helium to push 5G devices to their customers. Great for home users, but even more exciting for apartment complexes and other MDUs (Multiple Dwelling Units), Universities, parks and arenas, and even hotels. Think about what that future could hold in mass attended areas like that and the revenue that can be generated when you have a ton of people congregated.
Granted, at the current moment (October 27th, 6:25AM on the tarmac at SJC airport) you can’t connect to a mobile provider like Verizon, ATT, or TMO via those hotspots .. But just wait. The wait I see it, here are 4 scenarios:
- Carrier agreements between helium will form and you’ll get a great new dashboard feature that enables you to be a neutral host from home.
- Freedom Fi will spin up a provider like GoogleFi and be an MVNO
- Freedom Fi will allow any anyone to be an MVNO and open up an incredible global network
- A large MSO like Comcast, Charter, or Cox will buy out Freedom Fi and add it to their MVNO offering.
Either way, there’s a bright future for what this represents in terms of end-user connectivity. As long as your devices supports CBRS on LTE band 48, you’ll be able to use a service like this.
So what’s missing to make this thing go huge?
A few things.
First, this is a closed LTE network for now. What that means is that the devices in our packets can’t jump on it, yet. It requires a SIM card. We have physical SIMs or eSIMs from our providers that allow us to work on their network. Those SIMs are managed by the provider you pay a monthly bill to. You can’t use one SIM on 2 networks yet, or probably ever. You can program an eSIM, so there’s an opportunity there, if your device and SIM supports more than 1 carrier profile. It’s not like Wi-Fi yet, but that’s because the whole system was built to lock people into carriers and that was built upon as technology was added. Now, though, it seems that we may be entering a new age where people might want to support open networks like this. Is this an “if you build it they will come” scenario?
Second, you need hardware that supports the frequency that this is going to operate on. It runs on the CBRS band in the US, which is LTE band 48. Not all devices support that band on their radio chip inside their phone. If you have an iPhone 12 or later you’re in luck . If you purchased a device announced in since 2021, you may have a better chance that others.
Under the hood, there are a few things that need to be figured out also. Not to get too into the weeds on it, but CBRS has a few things that make it unique.
RF spectrum and allocation can be an issue. CBRS was one of the first frequency spaces in the US to use what’s known as a SAS or Spectrum Allocation Service. Basically, every device that uses CBRS has to “call home” and tell a server where it is using specific latitude and longitude coordinates and height of antenna install. Then it has to say what type of radio it’s using, it’s power settings, which antenna is connected to it, and how much power that antenna supports. In order for the SAS to do it’s job coordinating frequencies, it needs this information from every device. The SA then allocates a very specific frequency for a set amount of time based on where the other CBRS transmitters are to make sure they don’t interfere with each other.
Sounds like a lot right? Well it is. And that is why the CPI program was initiated. Any CBRS device has to be installed by a CBRS Professional Installer. That installer has to pass a test that gives them a digital key that they can sign each installation with. That way there is someone installing the device that knows what they’re doing and is responsible for getting the correct info to the SAS. To make sure that a CPI installed the device, a valid key is REQUIRED before the device will start transmitting.
I hope you can see why this is important. In order to go big, there have got to be a ton of CPIs out there to sign off on devices. If you think about what Dish has announced and what Freedom Fi is doing, how are they getting around this? Does everyone have to be a CPI? I guess we’ll see.
Overall, I think we could be on the cusp of a huge opportunity when it comes to a decentralized network. If everyone has a device in their home or office that lets everyone connect to it in a secure way, mobile coverage holes can be a thing of the past in a significant amount of areas. As I fly over I-15, I can think of some places that a traditional macro and micro cell config will still be needed, but in almost every place you live, visit, and work, this could be something exciting and new .. And maybe even profitable for you. With your network being open and usable you give yourself the opportunity to mine coin that can in turn pay for your connection. How cool is that?
Will it work? I guess we’ll wait and see! My FreedomFi miner is in the 2nd batch so I’ll update soon!