Magazine

Peer-to-Peer Network for the Internet of Things: Total Coverage

Amir Haleem of Helium

Helium Inc, a small company based out of Austin, Texas, promises a solution with the first peer-to-peer network for the Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things is set to disrupt the world of consumers and industry alike with new services and use cases. One of the constraints slowing down the adoption of the new technology, however, is the necessary trade-off be-tween network range and power consumption. Specifically, smart sensors, which are required to run on a single battery charge for months or years even, depend on low-power wireless communications. Existing solutions mitigate this problem by either utilizing a mesh network, or by reverting to edge computing. Both approaches fall short when it comes to true long-range use cases, and while 5G technology promises comprehensive coverage for IoT devices, the bottleneck here is power consumption.

The Helium Hotspot opens the door to an ecosystem of possibilities.
Amir Haleem, Founder and CEO, Helium
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Peer-to-Peer Network for the Internet of Things: Build an Ecosystem

The Helium network works by installing the Helium Hotspot, which reaches 200 times farther than Wi-Fi, thanks to an open-source “LongFi” format. Using this range, only 50–100 hotspots are needed to cover an entire city. This long-range, low-power network enables use cases which have been difficult to implement before. Nestle’s beverage delivery service Ready Refresh, for example, uses the network to monitor the fill level of customers’ water coolers in real time, thereby improving customer satisfaction. Directed more toward consumers are connected pet products, such as smart collars, which ensure that pets are not lost. Similarly, e-scooter company Lime uses the Helium network in some cities to track the whereabouts of their e-scooter fleet. Of course, even with long-range features, networks need to reach a critical mass to be useful for those kind of use cases. “We solved this challenge by ticking another box in the list of currently trending buzzwords: cryptocurrency,” says Haleem.

Each hotspot owner is rewarded with Helium Tokens for both operating the hotspot and transmitting data. These tokens can easily be converted into other cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or “real money”. This gives hotspot operators a real incentive to invest in the infrastructure. Manhattan, one of the first markets Helium was rolled out in, has almost complete coverage for the Helium network. “By creating the world’s first peer-to-peer wireless network that’s owned and operated by individuals, the Helium Hotspot opens the door to an ecosystem of possibilities”, Haleem explains. The company met the challenge of securely storing transmitted data by using their own implementation of a blockchain, ticking off another item on the list of trending buzzwords. The Helium network launched in the US in 2019 and now covers almost 1,000 cities. They’ve also recently expanded into Europe and expect an even higher adoption rate due to the relative maturity of the IoT market. The idea certainly seemed compel-ling enough to convince high-profile investors such as Google Ventures, Munich Re, and Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, Inc.



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