Home IssueData Economy 5 Q’s with Abhay Kumar, CEO of Helium Foundation

5 Q’s with Abhay Kumar, CEO of Helium Foundation

by Becca Trate

The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Abhay Kumar, CEO of the Helium Foundation. The San Francisco-based nonprofit oversees the Helium Network, a decentralized wireless network that provides connectivity in areas where wireless or mobile coverage is minimal. Abhay spoke about decentralized physical networks and real-world uses for lower cost smart city innovation.

Becca Trate: Could you share the initial inspiration behind the Helium Foundation and its role in operating the Helium Network?

Abhay Kumar: The Helium Network’s mission is to democratize access to connectivity and bridge the digital divide by tapping into the power of decentralized wireless networks. The Helium Foundation is the dedicated nonprofit that governs the Helium ecosystem, ensuring its growth and sustainability. We have two subnetworks that offer different types of connectivity: an IoT network that provides Internet connectivity to IoT devices—this is the original subnetwork in the Helium ecosystem—and a decentralized mobile network that enables communities to participate in building reliable, high-bandwidth networks.

We operate a permissionless blockchain-based infrastructure using an open-source approach. That means anyone can contribute by building and developing solutions on the network. Today, Helium has grown to be the world’s largest public wireless network, which wouldn’t be possible without a passionate user community. The network’s principles of openness and community-driven development are leaders in the blockchain and crypto space. The Network rewards deployers of coverage for creating a global wireless network with tokens. This is done automatically daily and incentivizes individuals and businesses to help build the network.

Trate: How does Helium Foundation leverage data analytics and insights to guide strategic decisions for the network?

Kumar: Our role as a nonprofit is not to dictate the direction of the Helium Network but to facilitate its smooth operation and governance. The Helium community makes the Network’s decisions, and its participants’ collective voice steers Helium.

The community has created public dashboards through a decentralized chatroom called Dune. The Foundation leverages data analytics and insights to understand community needs and preferences, ensuring that the strategic decisions align with executing the outcomes of community governance and voting, thus maintaining the network’s integrity and fostering its growth.

Trate: How is Helium’s technology shaping the future of decentralized networks and what implications does this have for both developers and end-users?

Kumar: Helium Network is pioneering a new era in connectivity. Its approach to decentralized networks, through easy hotspot onboarding, network participation, and incentivized global coverage, offers developers a vast playground for innovation and provides end-users with more affordable, accessible, and reliable services.

For example, a user can send 100,000 messages on Helium’s IoT Network for around $1 USD. This model challenges traditional telecom paradigms and empowers individuals to contribute to and benefit from network expansion, showcasing a shift in how we think about and engage with digital infrastructure.

A key feature of the Helium Network is that we focus on real-world problems that technology builders can solve with the network. We believe that practical uses and solving tangible problems in our society can be the engine that powers the success and adoption of the product.  For example, IoTNet EU, an operator providing connectivity for utilities in Sofia, Bulgaria, is using Helium to improve efficiency for data collection and lower water utility management costs. On another network, this type of monitoring could cost local governments an astronomical amount, but Helium was integrated for a fraction of the cost.

Trate: Helium Foundation is advancing decentralized physical infrastructure networks (DePIN). Can you elaborate on DePIN and the opportunities it provides for blockchain?

Kumar: DePIN is a new approach to infrastructure management that integrates blockchain for decentralized ownership, operation, and financing. They encompass various sectors, including telecom, wireless, computing and storage, transportation, energy, and more. Today, the Helium network has over 400,000 gateways on an open, public wireless network. The network uses the LoRaWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) protocol to connect IoT devices, and we provide coverage across the United States and EU.

This widespread wireless network empowers developers everywhere—from individuals to local governments and businesses—to create Helium Network applications.  The network is already reducing the cost of smart city solutions like monitoring for air quality, water levels, traffic flow and  noise pollution.

Trate: What are some future uses of Helium’s technology?

Kumar: We are only scratching the surface of what decentralized networks can do. First and foremost, we are focused on the core mission of growing our community so that anyone can benefit from Internet access. The concept of community-owned networks and the democratization of access could significantly impact data sovereignty and bring connectivity to underserved areas.

Moving forward, it is equally important to educate businesses and governments on how our network can solve the problems they face every day with cost-effective and easy-to-implement technology. The Helium Network is already making smart city solutions more affordable to track air quality, water, traffic, and noise.

Finally, we are expanding our connectivity range. Helium connectivity has been added to wi-fi, cellular, and LoRaWAN products to move toward a more resilient communications system, which is crucial for disaster management and critical infrastructure. Businesses and organizations developing critical infrastructure are the backbone of the network, and we expect these uses to become more commonplace.

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