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Helium 5G launching soon with about 1,900 nodes across 700 cities

The Helium 5G network will launch in the next few weeks, according to Amir Haleem, co-founder and CEO of Nova Labs. Based on a tracker set up by the company, roughly 1,900 5G nodes have already been deployed in the US across more than 40 states and 700 cities.

"We look forward to seeing the network launch in the coming weeks and will have more updates to share soon," Haleem wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

He added that there are already millions of devices that can access the unlicensed 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band where Helium's 5G network will operate, and he reiterated that Dish Network and GigSky have expressed interest in using the network.

Nova Labs changed its name from Helium in March, a move that coincided with the company raising $200 million in a Series D round of funding that gave it a $1.2 billion valuation. The company said rebranding as Nova Labs would help separate the Helium company from the Helium wireless network, Helium blockchain and Helium cryptocurrency, HNT.

'Complete lack of end-user demand'

Haleem's comments come at a critical time for Nova Labs and Helium. The operation rose to prominence on a LoRa-based wireless network for Internet of things (IoT) services. The network was built by everyday users, funded through cryptocurrency and managed through a blockchain. Today it comprises almost 1 million LoRa hotspots across the world, covering almost 10% of the world's population.

However, the network recently came under scrutiny thanks to tech entrepreneur Liron Shapira's lengthy Twitter post about Helium. Among Shapira's claims was that the Helium network made just $6,500 in revenue in June.

"The complete lack of end-user demand for Helium should not have come as a surprise," Shapira wrote. "A basic LoRaWAN [LoRa Wireless Access Network] market analysis would have revealed that this was a speculation bubble around a fake, overblown use case."

Stacey Higginbotham, editor of Stacey on IoT, recently wrote that she has run a Helium hotspot in her home since 2020. She said she made about $20,000 in 2021 by selling HNTs – largely thanks to the sky-high values of cryptocurrency overall last year. However, she noted that following the crash in cryptocurrency earlier this year, a new Helium hotspot operator stands to make around $15 a week.

In defense of innovation

Haleem issued his own lengthy response to Shapira on Twitter. He disputed the notion that Helium is a failure but acknowledged that the current Helium LoRa network transmits around 650 million data packets each month, generating roughly $6,500 per month.

Haleem said the revenue is only $6,500 a month because there are few devices available in the market that can access the Helium LoRa network.

"getting the infrastructure out there was the first step. realistically there's only been *usable* coverage for the last 6-9 months," he tweeted. "convincing users to rely on a network built by individuals is non-trivial, and the coverage was spotty."

Haleem continued: "so is Helium a spectacular failure? ... I'd say it's just getting started."

Higginbotham offered a similar take on Helium's LoRa efforts.

"The important takeaway here is that the Helium network is designed for hundreds of millions of devices to send small bits of data really cheaply. Which means that we won't see amazing revenue from Nova Labs until we start seeing hundreds of millions of devices on the network," she wrote. "Today Nova Labs has Lime, Cisco, MyDevices, and Careband as customers on the Helium network, but many of those are in trial phases or selling relatively few LoRaWAN devices."

Higginbotham continued: "This is exactly how the network is supposed to work." She explained that Nova Labs is essentially "performing a big experiment" in building a market around cryptocurrency and network building.

5G and beyond

That experiment is poised to take its next big step in the coming weeks when Helium launches its 5G network.

"A new 5G network is being built using the unlicensed CBRS spectrum," Haleem said in his tweet. "Most modern phones support these frequency bands and new open source protocol stacks make it possible to build publicly owned cellular networks for the first time."

But it's worth noting that Haleem and Nova aren't placing their Helium bets solely on 5G. Haleem explained that the blockchain-based network-verification system Nova designed for Helium's LoRa offering could eventually be used for many other types of networks.

"Other new networks will be built on top of Helium including VPNs, CDNs, Wi-Fi networks, and pretty much anything that involves a distributed network of nodes," he said. "We have a lot of great things yet to come."

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

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