But how will the “things” of IoT be connected — especially if they are tiny, inexpensive, and portable (move about a community)? We cannot expect every dog collar, roller bag, and soccer ball to have a mobile subscription plan and IMEI/MEID.
Let’s start with Rover. Say that you want to keep tabs on your dog when he goes off-leash (either by accident or when romping along the beach). Or perhaps you want to track an asset that is less expensive than a car or bicycle — for example, a soccer ball or even your favorite pair of earrings. With IoT, all of this is possible. The applications and benefits are coming toward us like a freight train.
IoT doesn’t require 5G speed, but to be truly transformative, it requires ubiquitous, low-power, and free connectivity. Coverage must be thorough, at least at the community level.
Do We Need IoT?
With miniaturization and the rapidly dropping cost of electronics, there are tiny and inexpensive things that can greatly benefit from constant connectivity. Today, my washing machine and air conditioner are WiFi-enabled. Connectivity is even built into my light bulbs and with platforms like UIB’s UnificationEngine® Conversational IoT, I can securely and privately talk to and text my light bulbs in any language on any channel (including WhatsApp!) without an additional app or a smart speaker.
But early connected smart home gadgets were designed to talk to their owners within a home. When traveling, you might want an alert if there is water leaking into your cellar. But let’s face it, when in the office or away on vacation, most of us don’t need to dim the kitchen lights or know when the laundry is ready to move from the washer to the dryer.
This is changing. Gadget makers the world over are preparing for an era of remarkable information and utility that will emerge when devices communicate not just with their owners, but with each other. When tiny things can talk to each other, a world with free, ubiquitous, and redundant connectivity will bring unexpected and remarkable benefits.
How Do We Get There?
We require simple, free, and ubiquitous wide-area networking. Most analysts expect that the brave new world will take wings when a popular, widely deployed internet access method emerges — one that does not require a service provider.
Does free internet access, with community-wide coverage and a sustainable business model, exist?
Enter the “people’s network,” Helium’s Hotspot. With a splashy adoption campaign, Helium is positioning Hotspot to be the first, successful mass-deployment of a very long-range, low-power signaling standard. If successful, Helium will jump-start a category of access and coverage that will drive the next big thing.
The Helium Hotspot is a crossover between a residential router, IoT and community internet access. Most importantly, it disintermediates the process. Having an ISP is optional. It is not required to get into the game and to enjoy significant benefits.
If five or more individuals in a city set up their Hotspot, the entire city has a new form of shared community access to the internet — even if only one of the participants has a service provider. A legacy portal is not even an issue to access resources and data within the community. Every service, store, event, and library in the town is online without anyone having a paid subscription to any service provider.
Helium is just beginning to roll out globally. Early adopters who acquire a US$495 Helium Hotspot effectively “own” their city. At first, it works at moderately low speeds and over very long distances. Only a few are needed to kick start a city. When 20 or 30 residents join the party, network speed, coverage, consistency, and overall utility become compelling. Not 5G or 4G speeds — but capable of servicing critical needs on the go or as a back-up method of internet access. When this clever IoT network gets traction, it will eventually service most internet needs other than video streaming.
Helium is the first major product to make use of the low-power LoRa radio standard (Helium calls it “LongFi”). User-owned Hotspots form a super mesh-network that the company hopes will cover entire continents. Unlike your router or smartphone hotspot, with Helium, there is no ISP or cell tower. Your neighbors are your peers and your entry ramp to the internet for services that are still on a legacy, subscriber network.
Just like Bitcoin, Helium adoption is powered by a Blockchain.
Don’t let this deter you from experimenting with Helium and taking control of your city. Using Blockchain is a clever way of incentivizing and rewarding adoption.
Helium Hotspot ads are everywhere. The first model LongFi router is not cheap. Hence, a Blockchain token. I am not a fan of ICOs but a functional token with no underlying pyramid scheme is not an ICO. It is a clever mechanism to speed the viral adoption of a chicken-and-egg technology, one that offers enormous public benefit.
Technology Application and Business Model
LoRa can achieve competitive web access speeds at 1-3 km. Helium Hotspots will likely have a mesh-handoff spacing of 15-30 km at first. This results in a signal of 5 kbps or less. Depending on how effective the Hotspot and hand-off incentives are, Helium may ultimately compete with sky-based WiFi, satellite schemes, or community WiFi as a free moderate-speed, internet service. Helium is intended for IoT devices, but can also be used as a last-mile layer for user internet access. During the early build-out of infrastructure in a region, Helium has optimized for low-speed IoT communications.
About the Author
Read more by Phil Raymond on his blog, A Wild Duck.