Crypto-fueled wireless network Helium will soon be able to roll out its mobile 5G vision to many more users. Today, Helium Networks founder Nova Labs announced that it has partnered with T-Mobile to develop a new 5G wireless service called Helium Mobile.
Helium Mobile will be a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) service and will tap both the T-Mobile and Helium networks for customers in the United States. Set to launch in the first quarter of 2023, the service will rely on both T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network and Helium’s user-powered 5G nodes.
T-Mobile Launch Crypto-Powered Service Founded by Helium:
T-Mobile and Nova Labs signed a five-year deal to get the service. By combining networks and switching between the two as needed, Nova Labs says the service will offer two significant economic differences from traditional services: plans will start at just $5 per month, and users can optionally earn crypto token rewards for sharing data.
Boris Rensky, co-founder and CEO of Nova Labs-owned firmware and hardware maker FreedomFi, said using Helium’s decentralized 5G network — which currently has more than 4,500 active user-operated nodes — means Nova doesn’t have to invest. Capital expenditure for building infrastructure.
“It allows us to build a cellular network with absolutely disruptive economics,” he told Decrypt.
Above all, Helium Mobile will allow users to receive the network’s mobile token rewards in exchange for providing anonymous data about their network usage. Risky says the service will treat such users as contributors, as the data will be used to monitor the quality and availability of the network as it scales — but that’s entirely optional.
Helium is a decentralized wireless hotspot network that incentivizes users with crypto tokens to run nodes and support the network. The primary Helium network, focused on powering the Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as sensors and trackers, currently has more than 950,000 node operators.
Crypto-Powered 5G networks are new and have very few users so far, as 5G hardware is much more expensive than the nodes that currently support core IoT networks. In June, the Helium Foundation announced plans to retire the original HNT reward token and create a new token for each network with an eye toward supporting additional wireless protocols in the future.
How does Crypto-Powered 5G Service Works:
Helium’s own 5G network will be the network of choice for Helium Mobile if coverage is available, Rensky said. It’s currently a relatively small network, but it’s growing: Helium’s second network has taken shape since launching Mobile Token Rewards, activating more than 1,700 new user nodes in the past 30 days — and Rensky says the momentum is growing.
Initially, voice calls will be entirely on T-Mobile’s network, while data transfers will use services provided by node operators on decentralized networks where available. Otherwise, it automatically switches back to T-Mobile’s network. As Helium’s network expands, more load will be removed from T-Mobile’s infrastructure.
Risky told Decrypt that there is still work to be done in the coming months to make the automatic switching process more seamless. Initially, users may experience minor delays as their smartphones switch between one network and another, but Nova Labs and T-Mobile will continue to collaborate to reduce and potentially eliminate such gaps in time.
“I’d say we’re halfway through this journey at this point,” Rensky said of refining the technological infrastructure. “But we still have some way to ensure that all users have a smooth user experience.”
Additionally, Nova Labs is working with smartphone manufacturers to design phones that are specifically designed to accommodate seamless switching. Users will also be able to bring their own phones, but a press release suggests that Helium-certified phones will be “more efficient” at verifying network coverage and thus earn more Mobile Token rewards.
The Helium Mobile news comes after the launch of a proposal to migrate the network from its own custom blockchain to Solana, a growing blockchain platform for apps, Defi, and NFTs. With token-based voting set to end on September 22, users have overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposal as of this writing.