Helium, the crypto-powered wireless network, has turned heads in the blockchain industry for building out a network of medium-range wireless hotspots fueled by cryptocurrency rewards that people might use as an alternative to hard-wired, centralized Internet service providers. The service has even been used to track crab pots.
Now, Nova Labs, the development company behind Helium, is pushing into the crucial, parallel realm of cellular networks.
On Thursday, Nova said it bought FreedomFi, a company which builds software for crowdsourced 5G networks, as part of Helium’s expansion into mobile communications.
In an interview, Nova CEO Amir Haleem declined to disclose the purchase price or comment on the terms of the acquisition.
“We had a desire to have more expertise in-house from FreedomFi and to be closer to accelerating what we are doing in 5G cellular,” Haleem said.
The Helium Network is a distributed network of long-range wireless hotspots, enabling anyone to own and operate a wireless network for low power Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
As part of the acquisition, FreedomFi team members will join Nova Labs. FreedomFi raised $9.5 million from semiconductor company Qualcomm and electronics corporation Samsung in March.
FreedomFi is no stranger to the Helium ecosystem. In 2021 it was the first to introduce and receive approval for Helium 5G. Since then, the FreedomFi team has launched the world’s first Helium-compatible cellular base station, which allows consumers with zero knowledge of 5G technologies to set up a cellular network from their home and start mining the project’s native HNT tokens.
The two entities started working together around 18 months ago, according Haleem.
FreedomFi co-founder and CEO Boris Renski said that joining with Nova opens the door for innovation that will have lasting impacts on the telecom industry.
“Using a crypto incentive model to crowdsource deployments of cellular networks has the promise of finally making community-driven mobile networks a reality, bringing affordable and ubiquitous connectivity to more people” said Joey Padden, chief technology officer and co-founder of FreedomFi.
The price for the HNT token, which is mined whenever the network is used, reached around $54 during the peak of the crypto bull market in 2021 but has struggled to pick up momentum since then (in line with the broader crypto market) and has tumbled to around $7.
When asked about the recent plummet in HNT’s price, Haleem said, “I like to use a longer horizon. When the token launched it was 1 cent. We are in a tough economic environment right now.”
Haleem said that Helium is still heavily focused on its IoT growth. He said about 30,000 hotspots are being added to the network every month across the world, down from 70,000 in early 2021.
“We are focusing on growing the usage side of the network as the coverage is looking good already,” Haleem said. “The IoT network is global. 5G is U.S. only at the moment, given network regulations in Europe.”
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