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T-Mobile teams with crypto carrier Helium to help people make money on the side

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

By creating crypto-mining routers that lets T-Mobile offload their cellular data to a mesh network based backhaul operator T-Mobile’s customers can now make money by helping transfer other people’s data. Weird but cool.

 

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Nova Labs, arguably the world’s first self fashioned “Crypto-Carrier” has announced that it’s snagged a deal to work with T-Mobile on a distributed wireless network that will help boost capacity levels on T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network.

 

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Nova Labs GM of Wireless Boris Renski said you could call the new Helium Mobile network a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO). But Nova Labs prefers the much more exciting description — crypto carrier.

He said most MVNO’s just sit on top of a major network, but the Helium Mobile network actually adds to T-Mobile’s existing network.

For a little background, Nova Labs is a company that brings together two startups: FreedomFi and Helium. FreedomFi has been working on technology to offload cellular traffic onto CBRS spectrum. It gets individuals to deploy cellular gateways on their personal property, and then these individuals earn cryptocurrency in exchange for their efforts. Helium is most known for its creation of a global, distributed Internet of Things (IoT) network, which also uses cryptocurrency as an enticement for people to deploy IoT gateways.

 

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Nova Labs COO Frank Mong described the merger between Helium and FreedomFi as a “fantastic marriage of similar size companies working on decentralized 5G.”

Nova Labs already is working with Dish on some CBRS-offload and blockchain trials. Today’s news with T-Mobile is a bigger deal.

Nova Labs and T-Mobile have signed an exclusive 5-year agreement for the launch of a Helium Mobile commercial service that will leverage T-Mobile’s macro network and Nova Labs’ CBRS network. The service is set to launch in beta early in 2023.

Renski said, “Helium Mobile is actually a service provider. You can purchase a data plan for as low as $5 per month and get nationwide service. Where there are Helium cells, you can use Helium cells. But in places where there are not Helium cells you use the T-Mobile network.”

 

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Like other service providers, Nova Labs has to deal with two different aspects of the Helium Mobile network.

The first is the supply-side aspect where the company incites individuals to purchase and deploy small cells on their own property in order to earn cryptocurrency. Renski said Nova Labs already has 5G small cells across 1,000 U.S. cities as part of the work that FreedomFi and Helium had been doing.

For the new Helium Mobile network, the owners of this equipment will earn Helium Mobile tokens. Renski said this appeals to early adopters who are tech savvy enough to order and deploy the small cells and who understand crypto enough to monetize their investment.

Deployment of small cells has been accelerating to about 1,700 cells every 30 days.

 

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The second aspect of the Helium Mobile network is the demand-side where subscribers use the network. This will also appeal to tech trailblazers who figure $5 per month isn’t much to risk. And the Helium Mobile network will also offer the option for subscribers to earn crypto tokens which they can cash in for real dollars via exchanges such as Binance.

“We provide users an opt-in for Mobile tokens to anonymously share how the network is performing,” said Renski. This feedback will enable Helium Mobile to know which small cells are performing the best and to reward the owners of small cells accordingly.

“The users are not simply paying for a data plan,” said Renski. “They’re actively participating in making the network better.”

 

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Renski said a lot of operators are intrigued by the idea of distributed wireless networks, where they don’t have to put their own capital on the line. But there are still a lot of regulatory and tech challenges. Those challenges include things like device compatibility, handovers between the macro network and the CBRS network, and routing of 911 calls. There’s still way too much risk for the big carriers to offer this to their subscribers. But T-Mobile’s work with Nova Labs “provides a good middle ground,” he said.

Currently, the young Helium Mobile network is small and tends to be concentrated in bigger cities.

“It’s not really possible to create ubiquitous nationwide coverage with CBRS small cells,” said Renski. “CBRS was always designed as an in-fill band. For ubiquitous coverage, we need to be partnered with a macro network like T-Mobile.”

 

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The Helium Mobile network will launch with a BYOD model, supporting all the devices on the T-Mobile network. Subscribers can join with either a physical SIM or eSIM. And they can choose whether they want the network as a secondary data plan or if they want to port their main number to Helium Mobile.

Nova Labs is also partnering with select cell phone manufacturers on specialized, crypto-friendly cell phone devices that will be more efficient at validating network coverage.

“Nova Labs is committed to building out a decentralized network. Our new agreement with T-Mobile gives our subscribers nationwide 5G coverage and enables us to offer mobile products and services that use both networks,” said Amir Haleem, CEO of Nova Labs, in a statement. “5G infrastructure can be accessible to anyone at a much faster pace by enabling the community to help build and use the Helium network, especially in hard-to-reach places.”

 

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Dan Thygesen, SVP of T-Mobile Wholesale, stated, “T-Mobile is excited to support Nova Labs’ innovation in this new crypto-powered space by enabling their mobility on the nation’s largest, fastest and most reliable nationwide 5G network.”

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