Nova Labs turned heads in August when it unveiled Helium Mobile, a $5-a-month 5G wireless service that was partly powered by crowd-sourced mini-towers that offered cryptocurrency as a reward. Helium is a complicated service that takes a bit to wrap your mind around. It’s back with a much simpler offering: a Wi-Fi hotspot puck.
The company on Tuesday launched its indoor Helium Mobile Hotspot, which retails for $249. It plugs into your home or business’s internet connection and broadcasts a Wi-Fi network for Helium Mobile users. In exchange for helping to expand the network’s coverage, users will earn MOBILE tokens every time someone connects to the hotspot. The hotspots will go on sale in Miami-Dade, Florida, the only market where Helium Mobile is available.
“These incredibly advanced mobile hotspots are like miniature cell towers that can enable anyone to participate in building a people-built wireless network where coverage is needed,” Nova Labs CEO Amir Haleem said in a statement.
Helium Mobile is able to offer such a low monthly price because it is banking on people setting up their own mini-cell towers running on a shared band of spectrum in exchange for Mobile tokens, giving the service a place to offload its cellular traffic. It has a reseller agreement with T-Mobile, so the less cellular traffic that the wireless giant has to handle, the less Helium needs to pay the carrier.
But the mini cell towers aren’t cheap, with one starting at $999 (You can check out the full lineup here). The introduction of cheaper hotspots, which uses the more generally accepted Wi-Fi standard, could further expand its network and make it less reliant on T-Mobile. It’s a similar model employed by the likes of Comcast, which has a cellular resale agreement with Verizon but can get out of paying as much by moving its subscribers onto its various community Wi-Fi hotspots.
Whether people care enough about earning cryptocurrency, which suffered a broader crash last year, to help bolster a network with its coverage remains a question.
The company cited Derek Kaplan, owner of Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop, as one example of someone in the Helium community who sees the mobile hotspot as an extra service offered at his establishment.
“I’ve been part of the Helium community for over 3 years and helped build the Helium Mobile Network by deploying mobile coverage at my shops in Miami,” Kaplan said in a release issued by Helium. “It’s about providing the extra value to my customers, as well as being part of a larger revolution in connectivity.”
Helium Mobile plans to roll out new markets next year, with the Helium community voting on the exact cities.