And in the last month, Helium has had five big pieces of news that signal its success in building out a network and finding customers for that network. It has signed roaming deals with Senet and Actility, two big LoRaWAN network providers. It has also expanded the ways people can participate in the network with the launch of two more Helium hotspots, as well as made it easier for anyone to participate in the network despite supply shortages.
Let’s focus on the chunk of news associated with expanding the network first. Last week, RAKwireless said it would create a new brand of Helium miner and hotspot called MNTD, while earlier this month a company called Mimiq said it would sell a consumer miner called Finestra as well as sensors that would use the Helium network.
Both companies said that when people purchase their miners they won’t have to wait too long for them to ship. Hardware to join the Helium network has been difficult to find as folks eager to get into cryptocurrency try to buy them to mine Helium Network Tokens (HNTs) but run up against shortages in the chip supply chain. According to Frank Mong, COO of Helium, some 60,000 new hotspots join the network each month. While that sounds like a lot, people have been waiting months to get their own hotspots in order to add them to the network.
To help meet the demand for participation, this week Helium changed the underlying code governing the network to enable “data-only” miners to join as a precursor to launching a new, light hotpot.
To date, traditional miners that provided coverage needed to have Raspberry Pis inside so as to help handle the demands of the underlying blockchain math that logs the proof of network coverage. With the data-only mining feature update, any LoRaWAN hotspot can run code that lets it become part of the Helium network and transfer data packets. These data-only hotspots won’t be able to mine for HNTs as part of providing coverage, but they will earn tokens for transferring data. The older miners do both. This will make the network more robust and help more people participate.
Any network, even if it’s a peer-to-peer network built on cryptocurrency, needs customers if it wants to stay viable. Which is where the recent announcements from Senet and Actility come into play.
Both operate or manage private and public LoRaWAN networks for customers. And now, both will be able to let their customers roam onto the Helium network. For Actility and Senet, this expands their coverage area for customers that include, Volvo, Cisco, Schneider Electric, and more. It also validates and boosts demand for Helium’s network.
As Helium’s network expands, we’re seeing it shift from mining tokens for proof of coverage to mining tokens based on transferring data. In the next few months and years, I’ll be looking to see if my miner spends less time doing the math to say it’s on the network and more time moving packets around.
That’s how we’ll know that the company is actually providing a real IoT network and not some crypto Ponzi scheme. As for Helium, after open sourcing the code that comprises the network and its blockchain, it makes its money holding the HNTs, so think of it as a real estate investment trust, or REIT, built on HNTs. It needs the network to stay robust and dependable and for network consumers to continue buying data credits in order to keep the value of HNTs high.
As long as those things happen, Helium should continue to make money. I do wish I could see its books, though.
Update: This story was updated on Oct 20, to clarify the differences between a data-only hotspot and a traditional hotspot.