- Helium is a peer-to-peer wireless company founded by Amir Haleem and Shawn Fanning that recently raised $15 million in Series C funding co-led by Union Square and Multicoin Capital.
Peer-to-peer markets have been known for transforming outdated industries for the better as it replaces old models with new sharing economy models that change the way we live and work. And Helium, a peer-to-peer wireless network company, announced recently it raised $15 million in Series C funding co-led by Union Square Ventures and Multicoin Capital. Existing backers Khosla Ventures, GV (formerly Google Ventures), FirstMark, and Munich Re Ventures also joined this round. Including this round, Helium has raised a total of $51 million.
“Everyday things that we use shouldn’t need cellular plans,” said Helium co-founder and CEO Amir Haleem. “By creating the world’s first peer-to-peer wireless network that’s owned and operated by individuals, the Helium Hotspot opens the door to an ecosystem of possibilities that allow people to connect anything from pet collars and ride-share scooters to sensors that monitor air and water quality.”
GV (formerly known as Google Ventures), Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and Shawn Fanning also previously invested in Helium. Fanning — who became a household name for co-founding peer-to-peer music sharing service Napster in the late 1990s — is also a founder of Helium. And Chris Bruce — who founded and sold an IoT-based smart baby monitor company called Sproutling to Mattel — is Helium’s Vice President of Product & Technology. The three of them met through Fanning’s startup called Rupture (acquired by Electronic Arts).
Often times, low-bandwidth Internet of Things (IoT) devices often need network connectivity, but cannot access Wi-Fi or afford expensive data plans designed for other high bandwidth devices like iPhones.
Helium fixes this problem with the Helium Hotspot (retail price of $495), which is an affordable wireless networking device that reaches 200 times farther than Wi-Fi via the open-source LongFi protocol and transmits data at a fraction of the cost than standard cellular plans.
The Helium Hotspot is a small device (6-inch x 6-inch x 1.5 inches) and it can be plugged into a home network while providing affordable wireless connectivity for small devices to connect to the Internet. Rewards are distributed to Helium Hotspot owners as an incentive for providing wireless network coverage as a service just like how Airbnb helps homeowners earn money by providing access to home as a service. And a tiny computer chip that attaches to virtually any small device can connect to the Helium Hotspot and wirelessly transmit data using the LongFi open source technology.
Low-power and long-range data is not a new concept, but it is not yet widely used. This means that the opportunity to build on this platform is ripe for opportunity.
“Low-cost, low-power, low-data-rate connectivity is not appropriate for every situation, but there are many, many unserved use cases that can benefit from this kind of network. For example, wildfire detection (many small sensors with tiny batteries spread over a large area), pet tracking (small sensor, small battery, ultra low cost), bike theft (small, durable, long-lasting sensors shipping directly inside the frame), agricultural & supply chain uses, and more. Anywhere where the requirements are small size, long life, low cost, and intermittent low-data-rate connectivity,” wrote Union Square Ventures partner Nick Grossman in a statement. “While there a set of existing wireless technologies that have similar properties that have resulted in promising initial deployments (Narrowband IoT in the licensed spectrum space and The Things Network and Sigfox in the unlicensed space), there has not yet been an open system that unites them into a single network. Helium’s community-driven approach attempts to solve that problem in a novel way.”
Just 50-100 hotspots are needed for providing coverage for an entire city. And consumers across the U.S. can buy hotspots to build a peer-to-peer wireless network operated by individuals called The People’s Network — which takes the IoT outside in a way that traditional telecommunications cannot.
So far, Helium sold out 80% of hotspots in the first U.S. market and the company added thousands of people to its global waiting list. Helium also has partnerships established partnerships with companies like Lime (testing Helium’s long-range network for tracking and recovering scooters), Nestle (The ReadyRefresh beverage delivery service is able to monitor the fill level of water coolers in real-time), Agulus (collecting data from automated irrigation valves and pumps), and InvisiLeash (smart and affordable pet products starting with smart collars to make sure pets do not get lost).
“With Helium, we can deliver affordable smart collars with tracking capabilities that just weren’t possible before,” explained InvisiLeash CEO and founder Gregory Gotts. “Owners will always know where their pets are in real-time, even over miles of range, running on batteries that last for years.”
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