Helium was founded in 2013 with a mission to make it easier to build connected products. We are backed by Khosla Ventures, GV (fomerly Google Ventures), FirstMark Capital, and other top VCs.
Helium is building a decentralized machine network which simplifies connecting anything to the internet through a new, unique combination of physical blockchain, wireless network, and open-source software.
To build this network in a decentralized manner, we use blockchain to create a two-sided marketplace made up of a community of coverage providers on one side and users of the network on the other. The network can reward anyone who deploys gateways and provides wireless network coverage. Users benefit from a secure, reliable, low cost network they can use to connect physical assets to the internet.
We believe a decentralized approach is needed to democratize connectivity, expand coverage, and keep costs affordable when connecting physical assets to the internet.
Anyone with a gateway can start to provide coverage and earn rewards. In terms of coverage, unlike big companies who may decide an area is unfavorable, residents can plug in gateways and immediately offer wireless connectivity for neighbors and local businesses anywhere they choose. The cost of connectivity is set by individual gateway providers but is heavily influenced by market forces including competition and demand of users for connectivity in an area.
Anyone can provide wireless coverage for connected machines and get rewarded by simply deploying gateways. Gateways can earn tokens for its owners in a several ways: mine blocks to verify provided network coverage; and receive fees from machines to send data to a public or private cloud.
Gateways are physical hardware that mine tokens while creating network coverage.
We expect the gateway to use as much electricity as an LED light bulb and for that energy use to remain constant. By comparison, the network of Bitcoin miners currently consume massive amounts of energy - by some estimates, enough to power a small country. We think there is a better way.
Online pre-orders for customers will be announced in the near future. Gateways will be offered at $495.
Tokens can be earned in a number of ways. Gateway operators earn tokens by mining new blocks and being paid by machines. Machines pay gateways for access to and from the internet. Mining is automatic; leaving your gateway on and providing network coverage gives you a chance to earn tokens.
We believe proprietary protocols and technologies stifle innovation. This is why we use commodity hardware components, open modulation schemes, and will be releasing all of the network components as open source software with permissive licensing. Visit our Github to see more.
Users of the network can take physical assets and easily connect them to the internet using a radio module compatible with WHIP, our wireless protocol. Using wireless coverage provided by gateways, connected machines can send their data to the internet over long ranges at a low cost in a way that’s not available today.
Thanks for your interest! Email email@example.com to get in touch with our business development team.
May 2018 - The future of blockchain and the Helium Network announced.
September - Launch private testnet in San Francisco.
Q4 2018 - Network Launch.
Q1 2019 - Plans for global expansion announced.
The blockchain has many features, but arguably the most important is that it is used to incent anyone to help build the network in a decentralized manner.
Blockchain and a new 'Proof of Coverage' protocol is used to verify network coverage provided by gateway owners and reward them with tokens.
This is a reasonable question. We tried, very hard, to use existing blockchain technology for this task (namely Bitcoin's and Ethereum's). But the more we designed the system and thought about actual real-world applications that would use it, the more we realized something new was required.
For the use cases we are targeting, we needed new proof mechanisms. In the Helium Blockchain, we call this set of proofs "Proof of Coverage". The Helium decentralized machine network is built on distributed wireless coverage providers called Gateways. Using Proof of Coverage, the Helium Blockchain enables us to verify gateways are actually providing real coverage for machines; and allows machines connected to these gateways to geolocate themselves in a physical space without needing typical mechanisms like GPS.
The Helium Blockchain is fundamentally new technology. While it borrows major ideas and best practices from the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains, the Helium Blockchain is purpose-built to enable distributed applications that operate in the real world; and require what we call "Proof of Coverage".
Proof-of-Coverage uses WHIP and the internet to verify that gateways are providing network coverage for machines. Without this verification, malicious actors could add false gateways to a network in an attempt to earn token rewards without actually providing coverage.
Helium Gateways challenge each other to prove whether or not they are behaving honestly using Proof-of-Coverage, which is part of our blockchain consensus protocol. Gateways proven to be acting honestly and in the best interest of the network (for example, providing legitimate coverage and validating transactions) have a greater chance of mining blocks and earning block rewards.
Every time machines connect to gateways transactional data including time and location are stored on the blockchain. As far actual machine payload data, we only store a digest of the packet on the blockchain.
The data is encrypted all the way from the machine to your application. Specific data collected by machines is not stored on the blockchain. All a gateway would know is that some data was sent, but has no knowledge of what was contained. Data sent from machines ends up at a router that you control.
It's almost like a big VPN for all your devices that can use any gateway to get home.
No, the transactions are handled by the router which owns the end nodes (we call machines) and the gateway. That way we can keep the machines extremely simple and cheap. We don't believe much is gained by having machines be blockchain clients themselves. They use the blockchain without participating in it, imagine a laptop using DNS or BGP, but without running them.
The Console and Wallet provide the interface to the blockchain. These applications provide many capabilities including: displaying gateway location, mining progress, setting minimum/maximum bids for transmission and geolocation services, and monitoring transactions.
The blockchain used to run decentralized machine networks is open source and while you could instantiate your own blockchain you will lose access to the larger network and any future updates or innovations.
A gateway’s score determines whether it can participate in block mining and earn rewards. While it helps to have multiple gateways (the range of gateways using WHIP is on the order of miles), even a single gateway can increase its score by acting as a “challenger” to verify whether a different region is acting honestly or not.
Definitely. We believe the set of primitives we're building into the Helium Blockchain will be applicable to a wide variety of high value use cases that require the ability to cryptographically prove the location of a physical asset in real time.
Machine data is encrypted end-to-end and therefore, is not visible to anyone. In addition, this end-to-end encryption helps prevent 'man in the middle' attacks.
Yes. The Helium Wallet will be available for most major platforms.
Although gateways can be placed anywhere and network coverage created, there are nuances with establishing trust in a new area. This is to prevent what the whitepaper calls “alternate reality attacks”.
A trust “anchor” (gateway) that provides coverage needs to initially be verified whether it’s through voting, trusted deployments, etc. Once a known good anchor has been established the network can grow from there.
Having said that, any gateway can still participate in routing data from machines, but if you are in a geographical region without any trust anchors you would be excluded from participating in the consensus group. You still gain in score for helping to verify others, but it’s unlikely you’d be one of the highest scoring miners on the network.
WHIP is a new open-source Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) protocol designed for a specific purpose in a decentralized machine network: long-range, ultra low-power wireless connectivity for machines. WHIP is used to connect machines to gateways, and gateways to gateways to verify coverage.
WHIP is highly secure, bi-directional and compatible with a wide range of existing radio transceivers operating in the sub-GHz unlicensed frequency spectrum.
WHIP creates several channels within the unlicensed spectrum and employs frequency hopping to switch between channels. Typically frequency hopping requires a complex time-synchronized system that is limited in capacity. However, machines using WHIP do not need to coordinate with gateways on channel selection as gateways are capable of hearing all channels within the available spectrum at any time.
Gateways connect to the internet using Ethernet, WiFi or cellular. All machine-to-gateway communication uses WHIP (wireless internet protocol).
Gateways are physical devices, have internet backhaul (Ethernet, cellular or WiFi), and create WHIP coverage for machine connectivity. Think of the gateways as access points that use the internet on one end and create WHIP coverage on the other. Machines then use a compatible radio chip to communicate using WHIP to the nearest gateway.
No and Yes. We believe an open-source approach is consistent with building decentralized machine networks and plan to make the software, firmware, and schematics open and publicly available. Any person or manufacturer is welcome to build gateways according to the open designs and standards.
“Machine” describes devices that have been integrated with a Helium Module and are able to send and receive sensor data to and from a gateway that’s part of thge decentralized machine network.
Yes. One of the key benefits of a decentralized network is that machines can automatically connect with any gateway.
Network issues related to lack of coverage are addressed in the “What can I do to increase coverage?” question. If it’s an issue related to the availability of coverage, we will be working with partners to support SLAs.
The strength of a decentralized machine network is the cost and speed in which additional coverage can be provided. Additional gateways can easily be deployed to areas that lack coverage.
Yes. The gateway will provide a number of configuration options including the capability to prevent machines from connecting.
No. Any machine connecting to the decentralized machine network must use the Helium wireless protocol (WHIP). WHIP is an open-source, royalty-free protocol built for machines to connect to gateways over long range using very little power.
We are focusing initial roll out of gateways to build the network in the US and then plan on phasing further deployment to other countries.
Yes, Helium provides out-of-the box integrations for market-leading cloud players including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and others.
With line of site from a connected machine to a gateway, we’ve tested over to 26 KM (16 miles). We still expect gateways in densely populated areas to perform extremely well. WHIP uses quite narrow channels and each gateway is capable of listening to almost the entire unlicensed sub-ghz spectrum.
No. Every gateway needs an internet connection in order to interact with the blockchain, access authentication data, provide geolocation, etc.
We plan to solve the cold start problem by completing the following:
1) Building a consensus and incentive model using blockchain and a utility token that creates rewards independent of machines using the system.
2) Many partnerships, lots of integrations, and copious business development work. We plan to work with everyone from end users to carriers to gateway OEMs and much more.
Because of the range and capacity of each gateway, the network can grow fairly large without needing to rely on centralized entities.
WHIP, the Helium wireless protocol, is the combination of various open, proven frequency demodulation techniques. Specifically, hardware modules that implement WHIP use a combination of Frequency Shift Keying (FSK) and Gaussian Frequency Shift Keying (GFSK) in the ISM unlicensed bands to communicate with gateways. All wireless communication between machines and gateways takes place in the sub-GHz portion of the unlicensed spectrum (commonly referred to as the ISM Band). For more information about WHIP read the whitepaper.
Indeed it does. We believe in the promise of Helium so much that we're open sourcing many of its components - from Module firmware to the Helium Wireless Specification to the Helium Router. This means that, if you desire, you can manufacture your own modules and gateways and operate your own Helium Routing Infrastructure.
There is effectively no limit to the number of machines that can connect to a Helium Gateway. Theortetically, it's in the 10,000s, but since every machine connection uses such a small frequency channel for communications and the gateway is able to monitor all applicable frequencies at once, it's unlikely a message from a machine is lost.
Data rates for machines that connect to gateways using WHIP range from 0.3 Kbps to 250 Kbps. A lot of factors will dictate the effective throughput rate for a device.
The Helium Network's wireless link is completely bi-directional. The downlink is available to users to send firmware updates (to both the MCU driving the sensor's application logic as well as the sensor's radio/crypto stack) and control commands to, say, close a valve on a water pipe when a leak is detected.
Absolutely. All the components will be open sourced, and we are working with OEMs who are interested in building their own versions of the gateway devices based on our schematics.
Yes. We know certain organizations would rather not handle payment transactions and we will make sure that’s not an obstacle to deployment.
Since gateway owners/operators have the flexibility to define connectivity transaction fees, the cost will be defined by them. However, we believe the market and, more importantly, competition will ultimately drive connection costs down consistently. There should always be incentive for gateway operators to charge what machines are willing to pay, as the incremental cost for them to relay data to the internet is very low.
We made a decision to release software, firmware, and schematics under open-source licensing, royalty free. We welcome other manufacturers to take our designs, use our schematics, and build their own hardware.
Yes. We plan to work with partners to offer SLAs. Stay tuned for further details.
There are a number of phases to our launch. See Roadmap question.
To get started prototyping now we have Helium 2017 product available for purchase with participating distributors. Visit here for additional information: Helium Store
We are planning a pre-sale for gateways in Q3 2018, and launch of our new gear running on blockchain is anticipated for Q4 2018.
If you are interested in deploying an application using the Helium Decentralized Machine Network, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll be in touch.
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