Hank Tucker Forbes Staff
I’m an assistant editor on Forbes’ money team.
The Helium Hotspot can connect to any home WiFi network and create its own low-powered, long-distance network on the other side.
Courtesy of Multicoin Capital
Blockchain technology, the distributed ledger software that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, seems to be infiltrating every industry. The latest iteration: telecommunications.
Helium, a startup that uses a blockchain to facilitate wireless connections, launched national sales of its Hotspot, coinciding with the announcement of a $15 million Series C fundraising round. The Hotspot is Helium’s biggest product launch since it was founded in 2013 by CEO Amir Haleem, Napster’s Shawn Fanning and software engineer Sean Carey. Helium ultimately hopes to reimagine networking for low-powered devices while attracting customers with the promise of cryptocurrency rewards.
Helium’s Hotspot is different from a typical mobile hotspot that provides high-speed Internet access for a laptop or cell phone. Haleem boasts that Helium’s “LongFi” technology can extend 200 times farther than a standard WiFi connection, with only 50 to 100 hotspots needed to cover an entire city. Connecting to these networks could help dog owners track down lost pets using smart collars, and fast-growing scooter startup Lime plans to use Helium to track the location of its scooters.
“We don’t think you should have to pay tens of dollars a month in order to connect something like a pet collar to the Internet,” Haleem says. “Low-powered things just don’t have a way to connect to the Internet that makes any economic sense, so we have a lot of different customers we’re working with that have this problem in extreme urgency.”
Anybody in the U.S. can buy a Hotspot for $495 and connect it to a WiFi network, which then creates its own long-range network for others to use. Hotspot owners would then be paid by corporations like Lime or InvisiLeash to use their network, and they’ll receive rewards in the form of a new cryptocurrency, Helium.
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