- The partnership allows Helium subscribers to use a combination of Helium and T-Mobile’s 5G networks while earning crypto rewards
- Helium needs to increase its 5G hotspot count from 5,000 to 50,000 to meet T-Mobile’s goals
Decentralized wireless operator Helium has inked a deal to connect its burgeoning 5G network to T-Mobile’s cellular coverage.
The partnership is expected to produce what the companies have dubbed Helium Mobile, a subscription service starting at just $5 a month that will operate Helium’s decentralized network alongside T-Mobile’s more established 5G network.
The idea is to reward customers with Solana-native MOBILE tokens in return for sharing their data on Helium’s coverage quality. The initiative is scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2023.
Helium rebranded as a crypto company in 2019, raising a $111 million venture round led by Andreessen Horowitz.
The cryptocurrency startup works by relying on users to deploy crypto-mining devices as nodes — which serve as wireless hotspots — in exchange for rewards denominated in Helium’s native HNT token. The company hopes to carve out a place in the high-profile telecom industry through partnerships with established companies like T-Mobile.
Decentralizing internet coverage has proven difficult for Helium. After surging in price of Helium in 2021 following a partnership with DISH Network, Helium’s HNT token has been steadily declining throughout the year, hovering around $4 after falling from its November high of $52.71 had fallen.
When HNT crashed, it became difficult to mine the token profitably, which raised eyebrows when it came to Helium’s bottom line. Helium, too, faced backlash after Mashable’s July report that the wireless carrier has listed Lime and Salesforce as partners on its website, though it has tenuous ties to both tech companies at best.
The network’s sudden vote to migrate from its own Layer 1 to the Solana blockchain did little to ease investor concerns.
The cure, in Helium’s eyes? Mobile data monetization, which telecom giants have in abundance but have yet to attempt to generate revenue via blockchain technology.
Helium initially used its hotspots for small packets of Internet of Things (IoT) coverage — but has been working on a 5G network since 2021, focusing on “small-cell” hotspots that fill gaps in widespread coverage like T-Mobile’s .
“99% of data comes from streaming protocols like cellular, 5G LTE and Wi-Fi. And very, very, very little actually comes from the IoT,” Boris Renski, general manager of Helium Mobile, told Blockworks.
Added Renski: “[Helium’s token] The value is tied to the volume of data in the network, so by the introduction of Helium 5G, a protocol that has an order of magnitude higher volume of data in the network [than IoT]we expect that this will benefit the entire helium ecosystem.”
Amir Haleem’s teaser for the T-Mobile partnership, HNT sent up more than 10%. And there’s a finding for wireless carriers, too: Helium says its network isn’t designed to compete with their established coverage areas and pricing models.
“We don’t say, ‘Hey, we’re launching Helium Mobile. Goodbye Verizon. Goodbye AT&T,'” Renski said. “This hybrid network, in which a macro network and a people network work together, can bring superior economics and a good experience to end users.”
The biggest challenge in starting a telco company — and one that’s crypto-focused at that — is building a broad network while revenues are still small. Helium’s network currently has fewer than 5,000 5G hotspots. T-Mobile has said it needs nearly 50,000 small cell towers to round out its 5G infrastructure.
A T-Mobile spokesman declined to comment.
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