In May I joined the board of DeWi, a non-profit associated with the Helium p2p wireless network. So far our work has been primarily focused on establishing community governance of the network, via new monthly community calls and the Helium Improvement Proposals (HIP) process.
This week we had two big announcements: a multi-million dollar community devgrants program, and the announcement of our first grant, which will add 5G and LTE support to the Helium protocol.
On Monday we wrote about the new DeWi grants program, to which we’re committing 1M HNT. That’s approximately $3.5M depending on the day’s token price. Practically speaking we are funding projects that improve Helium, but the big-picture goal is to get more developers involved, particularly in blockchain and protocol development. Currently almost all of Helium’s core developers are employees of Helium Inc. – which is normal and totally expected – but the next milestone in our progressive decentralization journey will be adding at least one independent developer to the core team.
During our monthly community call yesterday we announced that our first grant is going to FreedomFi, a company building open-source, commodity-hardware LTE and 5G small cell systems. Their approach is similar to how Helium Inc built out the initial LoRaWAN network: ~$400 hotspots that everyday people can plug in, put by their window, and earn money for providing coverage. FreedomFi’s new HIP27 proposal outlines the technical and economic changes needed to add 5G and LTE support to the Helium protocol and allow us to start deploying a community-owned 5G network around the world.
While on the surface Helium appears to be an IoT-specific network, it is actually a protocol for building wireless networks of all shapes and sizes: 3G, LTE, 5G, wifi, LoRaWAN, you name it. FreedomFi’s team is stocked with open-source and telecom-industry veterans, and the FCC’s authorization of [Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)] in Jan 2020 opened up this space to new players like us. I believe what we are building here will become a major community-owned telco that competes with AT&T, Verizon and other massive companies around the world.
The Helium project is especially exciting for me as a former owner of La Fonera routers and a participant in community wireless projects like NYCMesh and The Things Network . One of the best things about those projects is that they are open-source, staffed by volunteers and generally funded by donations. Unfortunately I think that reliance on altruism is also their greatest weakness. Helium’s blockchain provides a clear financial incentive for everyday people to build out the network. The crypto reward system is clever, fair and motivating, and solves for the “chicken and egg” problem of wireless infrastructure deployment. The proof is in the pudding: more than 20k hotspots have been deployed in less than a year and there’s a multi-month waiting list for new hotspots, which in turn is attracting new hardware manufacturers.
We’re looking to fund more software, data analysis, and educational projects, both small and large. I’m personally interested in:
- tools for connecting Helium to other projects, like wrapped-HNT and Rosetta integration
- end-user usability improvements like web wallets and a better Ledger app
- more data analysis of the network work, building on top of the the public DeWi ETL instance that we launched a few months ago