Dish Network will be the first major carrier to use the Helium Network’s blockchain-based incentive model – with customers deploying their own 5G hotspots using Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.
Dish points out that it’s no stranger to blockchain, having been the largest company to begin accepting Bitcoin back in 2014. It’s also the first subscription-based TV provider to accept the currency.
Now, it’s also getting behind the blockchain initiative that’s happening at Helium, the business backed by Google Ventures (now GV) that aims to build the first decentralized wireless network for connecting devices to the internet.
Helium’s network has grown from 15,000 LoRA hotspots at the beginning of 2021 to more than 240,000 now across 21,000 cities in North America, Europe and Asia. It’s remarkable growth, and Dish wants to get in on some of that action.
Dish first met with Helium about three years ago, and Helium has made quite a bit of headway since then, said Chris Ergen, head of the Dish Office of Innovation, noting the increase in the number of LoRA hotspots.
“We started to discuss how we might leverage the same strategy to bring both opportunities for people who want to help build out networks and for our customers to offload traffic in an area that maybe otherwise doesn’t have connectivity,” he told Fierce. “This is really just the beginning. We’ve announced the partnership and now we have to go execute on it.”
It’s worth noting that there are no plans to use this as a means for Dish to meet the FCC’s 5G network buildout requirements. “We’re on track to satisfy those from the macro layer,” Ergen said. It’s a grassroots ecosystem and Dish can’t rely on that to “satisfy something that is so important to us.”
Dish sees it as a way for people to identify areas where a Helium hotspot will improve their cell phone connectivity, for example. “It’s a good place for gap-filling” connectivity, he said.
The concept is not entirely different from how cable companies wanted to capitalize off the Wi-Fi hotspots in people’s homes, or wireless companies hawked femtocells to people who wanted to improve coverage in their homes. This time, however, the proposition is smarter – with those prior pitches, it wasn’t entirely clear to consumers how they were going to benefit with the buy-in.
In this model, people who help set up the network also get rewarded. By installing a hotspot in a home or office, a customer can provide or strengthen wireless coverage using CBRS spectrum. In return, a customer will earn rewards in the form of Helium’s network-based token.
It’s powered by the company’s blockchain, creating a wireless economy through an economic model known as burn-and-mint equilibrium (BNM). Helium’s tokens on Tuesday were priced at $24.60, reflecting an increase of more than 16% over the previous 24 hours.
“Using Helium Network’s technology and blockchain-based incentive model, Dish is a pioneer in supporting an entirely new way to connect people and things,” said Helium CEO and co-founder Amir Haleem in a statement. “The CBRS-based 5G hotspots will be deployed by customers, creating opportunities for users, partners and the entire ecosystem.”
Dish + Helium = good match: analyst
Dish and Helium are obvious dance partners, according to Tammy Parker, principal analyst at GlobalData. Their collaboration solidifies Dish’s positioning as a “cutting-edge and disruptive force” in the wireless industry while lending credibility to Helium’s efforts to create a decentralized, crowdsourced network of 5G CBRS user-based hotspots that can densify cellular coverage for operator partners, she said in a statement.
“By rewarding consumers with cryptocurrency in exchange for deploying Helium Network gateways, Helium’s approach can begin to topple the long-standing model of network deployment in which an operator buys, deploys and controls all of their own network equipment,” Parker stated, noting that Helium has already proved that blockchain technology and bitcoin incentivization can be used to create a crowdsourced communications network.
Dish will be the first cellular network partner that will use the Helium network to augment coverage, but it won’t be the last, she said, adding that other U.S. mobile network operators and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) are likely assessing how they might use Helium’s approach for network densification.
Helium is on track with its plans, having promised earlier this year that the first 5G-capable gateways from its Helium partner FreedomFi would begin shipping in September, which they did. The Helium 5G network initially will be restricted to the U.S. due to the reliance on the U.S.-only CBRS band, but the decentralized densification model can be applied to other spectrum bands in other nations, opening up potential partnerships with 5G network operators worldwide for Helium, Parker said.