The Helium decentralized machine network leverages a purpose-built blockchain and protocol token to enable internet connectivity for IoT devices.
Motivated in part by perceived monopolies in the telecommunications industry, Helium intends to drive innovation in internet connectivity services via a public marketplace between connectivity providers and consumers. Specifically, Helium plans to capitalize on the growing demand for low bandwidth connections driven by an increasing plethora of internet connected devices composing the Internet of Things. Using Helium’s blockchain, a system of community owned and operated routers— ‘Gateways’—enables disparate devices to form secure networks using radio connections spanning miles, as well as create low demands on devices’ battery life. Founded in 2013, Helium secured funding from Google Ventures and other similar pedigree VCs, whilst also securing support from many enterprise organizations, including Microsoft and Capgemini. Helium’s founding team has extensive experience with disruptive peer-to-peer services, including but not limited to Shawn Fanning’s previous project founding Napster.
Helium have created a blockchain designed to facilitate message provenance, open access and microtransactions. Gateways, essentially routers, connect to the internet via WiFi, Ethernet or cellular before providing the various machines across the network with long range wireless connectivity. The Wireless Helium Internet Protocol, WHIP, is open-source and the standard for all machines connecting to the network. Anyone can buy a router (the initial price was $495 USD) and will be eligible to receive rewards should they continuously provide connectivity for the network. Helium intend to make the schematics, firmware and software publicly available such that those so inclined can produce their own routers. Gateway operators will have the freedom to set transaction fees and, since the cost to connect a machine to the router is low, Helium expect a marketplace to emerge offering reasonable average prices.
Routers include software that allows them to listen to radio frequencies across many channels and timestamp received signals with high accuracy. This functionality is crucial for establishing a notion of router identity and mitigating the risks posed by Sybil attacks, on the assumption that it is more difficult for Sybil attacks to occur once the network has a notion of identity. Proof of Coverage (PoC) and Proof of Serialization are combined to prove a node’s location and connectivity at a specific time. Approved ‘anchor’ gateways help verify gateways joining the network. Peer gateways corroborate that the signal providers in question are performing to their purported quality and can influence a provider’s honesty score. The nodes considered to be most honest, as measured by an honesty score per epoch, are elected to an HBFT consensus group. HBFT was chosen since it is well suited for asymmetric systems—achieving a single notion of time across nodes is non-trivial—with high transactional throughputs and quick achievement of finality, allowing for effective censorship resistance.
Helium’s token, HNT, is native to the Helium blockchain and is designed to incentivize those providing long-range wireless connectivity via mining rewards and transaction fees. rewarding Helium Hotspot operators who building out and securing the network are rewarded with HNT. HNT, in turn, can be burnt to generate the network’s dedicated payment asset, Data Credits, a exchangeable, user bound asset produced exclusively through burning Helium tokens and required for paying the network’s transaction fees. Router operators are compensated with HNT in proportion to their reputation. Router operators are scored based on their past performance providing verifications of communications with other network nodes, and routers with higher scores are directed more traffic, increasing the revenue operators stand to accrue through transaction fees. Routers will also earn tokens for verifying network coverage and adding blocks of transactions to the ledger. In addition to the fees levied for connecting machines in the network to the internet, extra opportunities for revenue exist when machines request uploads of data to cloud services via routers. HNT’s supply is designed to respond to network usage trends, and operates on a “burn and mint equilibrium.” The protocol generates five million new HNT each month through mining, with rewards distributed at the end of a mining period; 30% of these rearwards are allocated to Network Data Transfer, 35% to Hotspot Infrastructure, and 35% to Helium, INC and Investors.