Joanna Ossinger (Bloomberg) — The Helium Network, a decentralized peer-to-peer 5G wireless network, has raised $111 million in a token sale led by Andreessen Horowitz.
The transaction was structured as a purchase of Helium’s native token, HNT, and included participation from Ribbit Capital, 10T, Alameda Research and Multicoin Capital, according to a statement. The native token is structured to give incentives for the expansion of Helium’s 5G network that provides internet access.
Helium was co-founded by former video game entrepreneur Amir Haleem and Napster co-founder Shawn Fanning. Its Hotspots — wireless devices powered by the Helium Blockchain — mine HNT, the native network token, as an incentive for expanding and strengthening wireless coverage, the company said. Hosts receive HNT whenever their Hotspots provide coverage and transfer device data.
“Helium is transforming the way we connect to and scale wireless networks globally,” said Ali Yahya, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in emailed comments. It shows how new cryptocurrency protocols will “challenge centralized incumbents” and eventually compete with larger telecommunications companies, he said.
The funds are expected to accelerate the rollout of Helium’s decentralized 5G network, and support mobile network operators and mobile virtual network operators as they use Helium 5G to expand their coverage, according to the statement.
“Helium shows that crypto incentives can be leveraged to deploy real-world infrastructure,” said Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of Alameda Research, in the statement. “Helium has a tremendous opportunity to bring 5G to the masses around the world and greatly enrich the quality of their lives.”
There are more than 118,000 Hotspots in more than 11,800 cities worldwide now, according to the company’s website. There are more than 500,000 additional Hotspots currently back-ordered waiting to come online, Helium said.
The Helium network isn’t like a standard cellular network from Verizon Communications Inc. or AT&T Inc. — for instance, it uses different standards and frequencies. The Hotspots, some of which resemble a modem or a router, have a more limited range than big towers used by major wireless providers, though the company says the decentralized model will allow it to expand faster and more efficiently.
Still, Helium is being used for numerous projects such as supporting the monitoring of air and water quality and smart infrastructure, co-founder Haleem said in an interview.