Pollen Mobile distances itself from crypto, sparking DeWi outrage

Critics are concerned that Pollen Mobile's new rewards structure does not have a mechanism that allows early Pollen supporters to accrue more cryptocurrency. And that's caused an uproar.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

January 26, 2023

4 Min Read
Pollen Mobile distances itself from crypto, sparking DeWi outrage

Pollen Mobile this week announced changes to its cryptocurrency-based rewards program that appear to have sparked an uproar in the decentralized wireless (DeWi) space.

"It's safe to say that the community is outraged, accusations of a rug pull abound, and many in DeWi are very disillusioned and disappointed by this decision," wrote Connor Lovely, a DeWi entrepreneur, in his newsletter.

Others appear to agree.

"Pollen Mobile just rugged all their token holders by unilaterally switching to USD for data usage, driving zero value into the token," wrote Arman Dezfuli-Arjomandi on Twitter. Dezfuli-Arjomandi hosts a podcast about the DeWi space, including market leader Helium. "This is awful treatment of users and investors who built the network. You hate to see it."

Indeed, some of Pollen's competitors are sensing an opportunity. For example, XNET in a Tweet acknowledged "recent events" and suggested that "orphaned and abandoned radios" could be moved over to its own platform.

Pollen's 'next phase'

At issue are companies like Pollen Mobile, Helium Mobile, KarrierOne and others that hope to use cryptocurrency to reward everyday users for buying and maintaining wireless transmission sites. The goal is to create "decentralized" wireless networks that could stand as a supplement or alternative to existing 4G and 5G networks.

Pollen has been widely viewed as a fast follower to market heavyweight Helium. The company counts around 800 transmission sites on its website, and has engaged in a handful of pilot deployments.

However, in a series of Internet posts this week, Pollen said it is shifting its rewards strategy to focus much more heavily on the US dollar instead of its own PollenCoin cryptocurrency. "A token-only model is not a path to a commercially viable mobile network, particularly in the current regulatory environment," the company wrote.

That may not be much of a surprise given tumbling crypto values and US regulators' sudden interest in the space following the catastrophic implosion of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX late last year.

Lovely, the entrepreneur, argued that Pollen's move to the dollar makes sense because "which boomer TradWi (traditional wireless) corporation do you know of that is willing to buy, hold, and sell an illiquid crypto token that trades on one janky DEX to pay for data transfer on a fledgling CBRS network?"

However, Lovely explained that Pollen's new rewards system does not have a mechanism that allows early Pollen supporters to accrue more cryptocurrency. "Situation [with] Pollen Mobile highlights the importance of trust while building crypto projects or anything of utility in life. Once broken it will never be the same," wrote one Twitter user.

Responses and ramifications

For its part, Pollen appears to have signaled an openness to addressing such concerns.

"We hear loud and clear that many in the community don't agree with our conclusions – we respect those views, but our conclusions were not arrived at lightly or without extensive deliberation and consultation," the company wrote. "That said, we are listening, and if the community delivers a proposal that provides a better path forward than the one we've proposed, we will give it the consideration it deserves."

"I'll be submitting a proposal that I hope can alleviate any issues the community has with the new incentive structure proposed by Pollen Mobile. I think we can find an equitable resolution to move forward and achieve the goals of all involved," wrote Andrew Fisher, CEO of DeWi player Noble Networks, on Twitter.

Salvador Gala, co-founder of DeWi investment outfit Escape Velocity Ventures, said he does not expect other companies in the space to follow Pollen's lead.

Importantly, the development comes as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile put the finishing touches on their massive midband 5G network buildouts. As the companies do so, they've been signaling that they're keen to dramatically cut back on their network spending. That's the opening that some DeWi companies are hoping to leverage. One of their main goals is to position DeWi networks as a crutch for big mobile network operators (MNOs) to use in locations where they don't want to build or expand their own networks.

"Combining Pollen's native RAN [radio access network] with the MNOs' RAN, Pollen can provide a premium, differentiated mobile experience to subscribers," Pollen wrote this week.

However, so far no big mobile network operator has indicated a willingness to use such networks.

Related posts:

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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