Crypto-Incentive Mobile Networks Are Gaining Ground
It’s 2022 and your mobile carrier could be going crypto.
There is a growing movement around building crypto-incentive peer-to-peer mobile networks.
“What if we put Bitcoin mining in IOT hotspots to provide cover?” asked a helium engineer half a decade ago. As of June 2022, Helium now has over 845,000 hotspots worldwide, providing data coverage in over 63,000 cities.
Originally founded in 2013 with the aim of building a decentralized on-ramp to the internet, Helium launched its own blockchain and HNT token in August 2019.
To earn the HNT token, users can install a WiFi hotspot created by the makers of the Helium ecosystem. Like the Ethereum network, companies can build applications on top of the Helium blockchain with use cases ranging from smart agricultural sensors to supply chain sensors.
Access points then search for tokens using a proof-of-work protocol the company calls proof-of-coverage, a way to ensure that access points honestly represent their location and network coverage. wireless network they create from that location. The amount of HNT distributed to users depends on the value of their hotspots to the network.
Helium has raised over $300 million from FTX Ventures, Tiger Global and Pantera Capital. The company recently partnered with Dish Network to roll out Helium’s peer-to-peer 5G network to Dish users.
Helium isn’t the only company looking for crypto-incentive wireless networks. While Helium helps mobile operators extend their coverage, Pollen Mobile builds a user-owned and operated mobile network.
Pollen was founded by Anthony Levandowski, the polarizing figure who co-founded Google’s self-driving program Waymo, illegally stole files from Google (and was later pardoned by Trump), then launched and sold another autonomous vehicle called Pronto.
While building Pronto, Levandowski’s team struggled with cellular reception in remote locations for their self-driving vehicles, so they built their own 5G network — yet when Levandowski returned home to San Francisco, he had no service in his house. “It wouldn’t be great if everyone could set their own coverage where there’s no reception,” Levandowski says.
Soon, Levandowski and his team launched Pollen, a peer-to-peer wireless network that entices its users with crypto to run their own cell towers and expand network coverage. “The real opportunity isn’t just to fix coverage,” Levandowski said. “Let’s do [a carrier] where it is private, pseudonymous and decentralized where everyone owns their own nodes and people will get paid for other users using their nodes. It is a community cell phone service.
In February, Pollen launched in San Francisco and is now available across the United States. Users log into the network with an eSIM card, which earns users PollenCoin (PCN), a Solana-based token.
There are three main parts of the Pollen ecosystem, each with entirely organic codenames: flowers provide network coverage, hummingbirds are eSim cards, and bumblebees collect and validate data. After purchasing a Hummingbird, users can connect to the network privately and securely; users are encouraged to buy flowers to strengthen their network.
On April 19, Pollen Mobile closed its seed funding led by Slow Ventures alongside DISH Wireless, Delphi Digital, OVN Capital, Acorn Pacific Ventures, and more.
When Alexander Graham Bell incorporated AT&T in 1889, he probably could not have foreseen a world where users would be paid to develop a communications network. While crypto-incentive networks are still in their infancy, they have the potential to disrupt this antiquated industry.