Coffee Space


After Helium

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Helium is a crypto network based on Helium, where people pay in shit-coin to communicate via the network, which apparently pays for the hotspots. Recently the Helium network has begun to die, and their business model has completely fallen apart.

I was discussing recently on IRC in Pine64’s #lora channel about how I hope Pine64 community developers decided against the Helium support in the end:

0001 B[]: Hopefully Pine devs decided against the Helium network in the end
0002 B[]: I know there was some chatter about it in the beginning
0003 B[]: Not that they would allow the devices to witness anyway, their entire
0004 network was propped up with hardware sales

The answer to this was essentially “people are free to work on what they want”. My concern here is the Pine64 community being dragged into a pyramid scheme. I thought this was worth a quick discussion and some attention, so I wrote this.

Note that I switched people’s tags to @#### to preserve their privacy. Technically it is a public chat, but this is a courtesy. In this chat I am replying to people, and have only selected some of my replies too.


So, what are the problems actually with Helium?

0005 B[]: @#### @#### As it was though, Helium was a pyramid scheme. Maybe it
0006 started off with good intentions, but as they failed to get commercial support
0007 (even lying about it), they then switched to a hardware + mining model.

There was a nice article on this, but I suggest to watch Coffeezilla’s video titled: “The Billion Dollar Network No One Uses”. It’s entertaining and funny, on a topic that is otherwise sad about a pyramid scheme that started with good intentions (we believe).

0008 B[]: I think the question here is "why didn't it kick off?". I suspect there's
0009 just no/low demand for low-bandwidth high-range communications in areas where
0010 there are people, because people tend to build high-bandwidth communications
0011 where they are.
0012 B[]: Maybe the biggest problem with Helium is that it takes something with a
0013 small barrier to entry (you need LoRa gear) and then adds further barriers (now
0014 you need crypto tokens just to use it).

I stand with this, there just simply isn’t any real application for low-bandwidth, low-power networking with such a high barrier to entry.

Incentivize Gateways

So if commercial backing isn’t an option for expanding the network, are there other ways we can expand the network?

0015 B[]: As to incentivize gateways, I think it would be much better to just make
0016 it useful, so that people want a gateway in their area to also get to use this.
0017 B[]: What you're up against is 4/5G, which is basically everywhere. Where LoRa
0018 is easily better is low-power applications, and the only place you wouldn't
0019 have power is somewhere remote (typically outside), that isn't typically
0020 directly interfaced with regularly.
0021 B[]: I think this essentially leaves remote sensing, and the next questions is:
0022 What kind of remote sensing would non-hacker people want to do that would
0023 convince them to get involved?

Whilst applications such as messaging, notifications, etc, are fun and cool via a decentralized network, it simply doesn’t replace the ease and usefulness of WiFi and cellular. LoRa needs a different primary selling point, that convinced the average person to host it to get benefits from it regularly.

Ideas For LoRa

With this in mind, we need non-commercial applications to convince people to use LoRa. Some initial ideas:

0024 B[]: Maybe something to do with climate change (CO2 monitoring, temperature,
0025 etc)? Perhaps an Apple Airtags alternative for finding things locally?
0026 B[]: (Which of course would be called a PineTag)

Here there was a suggestion to have this as a network for emergency scenarios. My reply to this:

0027 B[]: @#### Whilst I agree, most people only think about the immediate future,
0028 and a "just encase" is a hard sell for an always on network. Also a power
0029 outage would wipe out the LoRa network unless all gateways had batteries, and
0030 requires everybody carry a LoRa device just encase
0031 B[]: I think it would be better to have some daily task it is performing, with
0032 the back-up communication network being an added bonus

Another suggestion was to have it as a weather station:

0033 B[]: @#### Distributed weather stations would be really cool. Probably
0034 something with temperature, pressure, humidity, CO2, light, could be quite
0035 useful information

I’m sure there are other ideas, but generally my guidance for these would be:

  1. Regular use - Ideally it should be used daily in order to justify “always on” functionality, allowing people to build out a network.
  2. High return on investment - That is to say, it should either be cheap, or really well used. People are not going to want something expensive that they do not feel they get their value from.
  3. No commercial reliance - Build good things, they will come. Don’t rely on companies propping up this unknown thing. We must first prove it.
  4. Not compete where others are better - We can’t compete with better technology. LoRa will not be faster than the internet, it will not be more versatile than 4/5G. It’s strengths are distance and low-power, we should play into these strengths.

Additionally, I would add:

  1. No centralization - If it needs to talk to specific server in order to function, why bother building a decentralized network?
  2. Compatibility - Would be a great steal to re-use all of those Helium miners now sitting there by flashing them with a custom image.