Helium is building the world’s first decentralized wireless network to simplify connecting devices to the Internet by rewarding anyone to become a network operator. CEO Amir Haleem comes from an extensive background in triple-A video games. Helium is backed by GV (formerly Google Ventures), Khosla Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Multicoin Capital, FirstMark, Marc Benioff, Shawn Fanning, and other top VCs. The Network is live in more than 35,000 cities globally.
Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:
(01:12) Introduction to Jacob Swinn
(03:15) Background of Helium
(04:29) The goal/objective of Helium
(06:29) Use cases and applications of Helium hotspots
(07:55) Helium’s partnership with San Jose, CA
(08:59) How do companies get on the Helium network?
(10:05) How does the Helium network compare to cellular connectivity?
(13:34) Impact of Starlink on Helium
(15:58) Challenges in the IoT space
(17:51) What’s coming up for Helium in 2022
– [Voice Over] You are listening to the IoT For All Media Network.
– [Ryan] Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the IoT For All Podcast. I’m your host, Ryan Chacon. And on today’s episode, we have Jacob Swinn, the Product Marketing Manager at Helium. Helium, for those of you may be unfamiliar, is building the world’s first decentralized wireless network to simplify connecting devices to the internet by rewarding anyone who becomes part of the network. So we’re gonna actually talk a lot about Helium and kind of how it operates, how decentralized connectivity and what it is, what the role it plays in IoT, and also how things like Starlink and other new technologies that may enter the market, may influence decentralized connectivity. So I think you’ll find a lot of value out of it and I really hope you enjoy this episode but before we get into it, if any of you out there are looking to enter the fast-growing and profitable IoT market but don’t know where to start, check out our sponsor, Leverege. Leverege’s IoT solutions development platform provides everything you need to create turnkey IoT products that you can white label and resell under your own brand. To learn more, go to iotchangeseverything.com. That’s iotchangeseverything.com. And without further ado, please enjoy this episode of the IoT For All Podcast. Welcome Jacob for the IoT For All Show. Thanks for being here this week.
– [Jacob] Absolutely, thank you for having me, Ryan.
– [Ryan] Yeah, you know, we’ve been talking on and off here and there and it is finally good to have you as a guest on the show. This should be exciting conversation.
– [Jacob] Yeah, no, I’m excited. And I was on here a few months ago talking about some asset tracking stuff so.
– [Ryan] Right, yeah, that was.
– [Jacob] It’s good to be back, yeah.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that was on the news and interview series with Digital Matter. Yeah, you had some really interesting stuff to talk about. That was awesome. Yeah, so let’s dive in, let’s have you first start off giving introduction about yourself, background, experience, anything that’s relevant to give our audience some context on who they’re listening to.
– [Ryan] Yeah, for sure. So my name’s Jacob Swinn and I’m the Product Marketing Manager here at Helium. I’ve been here since May of 2021 so going on about nine months. I guess in the tech startup world nine months seems like five years sometimes with all the growth and everything that’s happened, especially with Helium, but yeah, really excited to kinda talk about, you know, Helium’s 2021, what we have to look forward to in 2022 and beyond and, you know, kinda go over some key things that Helium’s working on or has done recently.
– [Ryan] What about before Helium what were you doing? Kinda what was the focus? What led you to Helium, I guess is a good question?
– [Jacob] It’s a pretty non-traditional path. I was actually a high school teacher for a number of years. And then, you know, before I got too old I decided to make a career change, I went and got my MBA in marketing and leadership, and then I knew someone working at Helium and kind of reached out to them right before I graduated with my MBA, and I was lucky enough to get hired here and kind of, you know, as with many startups, especially in tech you kind of get thrown in the deep end and just, you know, sink or swim. But it’s been really cool, it’s been awesome. A learning experience for me. It’s been cool to kind of help people learn about Helium and really exciting to move forward with them.
– [Ryan] So talk to us a little bit about Helium in general and maybe also kinda take us to where Helium was in the focus when you joined versus where they are now and the overall goal and focus for them in the industry.
– [Jacob] Yeah, so Helium was founded in 2013 basically with the mission to make it easier to build decentralized wireless networks. Founded by Amir Haleem and Shawn Fanning. Shawn Fanning, people might know that name from Napster fame.
– [Ryan] Napster, right.
– [Jacob] Yeah, exactly. And the current iteration of Helium as we kind of know it now with like the hot spots and coverage and everything has been around since 2019 so it’s still fairly young. When I started the goals were pretty much the same. The network was just much smaller. I mean I have a graphic in front of me. Beginning of 2021 there were 14,000 hotspots online, you know, and now we just hit half a million, I think yesterday or the day before. So the growth in last year, yeah. The first blog I wrote, I think I referenced like 24,000 and that was in like April and May, ya know. So it’s been insane. But yeah, had ton of growth in the last even six months.
– [Ryan] And so you mentioned hotspots, so let’s dive in a little bit more to kind of how Helium works, what’s the overall premise. I’m sure a lot of our listeners have come across it because you kind of play in two different areas, right? You play in the IoT space from a commercial standpoint but you also play in it on the consumer side as the users or the, I guess, adopters of the hotspots, the ones that are hooking them up. So tell us a little bit about how this all works. What’s the overall like point of it all? You know what’s the goal and objective here? And then we’ll dive in further from there.
– [Jacob] Yeah, well initially like I said in 2019 when kind of this version of Helium quote/unquote “launched” users were incentivized to build out the network. I mean, basically a hotspot owner becomes their own telco. You know. I mean you’re providing coverage from that hotspot and users were incentivized to build out the coverage by those hotspots mining what’s called HNT, Helium Native Token, which is our cryptocurrency. And you know that was kind of ingenious in the way to get that network coverage and get that network growing. ‘Cause you know you’re spending money on a miner on a hotspot and you’re getting some ROI from that while you’re building out the Helium network. And so that’s really helped to grow the coverage all over the world. And like I said, we got like half a million hotspots online now and I think we’re in 160, over 160 countries. Pretty sure there are 195 countries in the world so I mean we’re closing in on everywhere. Yeah, so now the focus is a little bit, you know, that coverage is there and we wanna see usage on the network ’cause it’s really cool that there are so many real world applications and things that can help people that can be done on the Helium network and now that that coverage is there those are so much easier to implement and deploy.
– [Ryan] Yeah, and that kinda leads me into my next question which is around the use cases and the applications that the network is enabling. So as more hotspots are deployed and there is more network coverage all across the world, what is the focus from an application standpoint? Are you all focused on certain verticals, certain use cases, certain device types? Like how does that all work from your all’s perspective?
– [Jacob] Yeah, I mean we have certain kind of key verticals that are always going to be relevant in the IoT space, you know, such as like asset tracking. You know, like I said, I talked about asset tracking earlier on this pod a few months ago but that’s always gonna be a big one with IoT. But I mean there are so many different use cases and I’m finding out about stuff that I didn’t even know like was possible or existed. You know, we were looking at one just recently where one of the companies is using IoT sensors to like track wildfire movement and things like that. You know, I’m on the west coast in the United States. I mean, that’s very relevant to me, you know,. I definitely wanna see something like that. So yeah, I mean our web site lists five key verticals like I said, environmental monitoring, asset tracking, smart water monitoring, smart cities, and smart agriculture but that’s not at all a comprehensive list. You know, there are things in a lot of different areas that’s really cool to see.
– [Ryan] And I know you all did some stuff with the city of San Jose, right? Like talk a little bit more about that. I know that was a more public kinda thing so just share kind of what the goal was there and what ended up happening.
– [Jacob] Yeah, no, it’s really cool. And I mean, just to preface it a little bit, I really when I was kind of looking for jobs, one thing I really wanted was a company where I could really see a tangible way in that they were helping like the community out or helping people. And so the city of San Jose in September or October, I can’t remember when our official announcement went out, but they became the first city to kind of adopt to partner with Helium and they have deployed Helium compatible hotspots. And so they’re building out network coverage and at the same time the earnings from those hotspots are going to fund internet access for low income households. So you’re getting people who can’t afford internet and yeah so Helium’s helping out that way while the network’s being built out. So I think that’s awesome, man.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that’s really cool. So when the network is deployed, what do I guess companies who want to be on the network need to do? Like are they building devices that specifically work with the Helium network? How does that kind of, how do they approach it from that side to build something that can utilize the Helium network?
– [Jacob] Let me just make sure I’m understanding this right. So like if a company wants to kind of use Helium to deploy solutions is what you’re saying?
– [Ryan] Right, right.
– [Jacob] Yeah, I mean a lot of companies kind of build their own devices that work on Helium but the nice thing about Helium is it’s really easy to get started. Pretty much any compatible Class A LoRaWAN device, you can get up and running on the Helium network.
– [Ryan] That makes sense.
– [Jacob] If a company doesn’t necessarily have the resources or they don’t have their own devices or something like that it’s still fairly easy. There’s, you know, a low overhead cost to get started with Helium, yeah.
– [Ryan] Yeah, that’s what I was looking for, more of the LoRaWAN side of it just to kind of understand what they need to be building for. So that makes a lotta sense. Now how does, I guess one thing that’d be interesting to hear from your side of things is the overall connectivity landscape in IoT obviously grows and it enables lots of different things and your approach is very unique and one of the other kind of hot topics when it comes to connectivity is the cellular side. So how does Helium network and the technology there compare to utilizing, let’s say cellular for instance, to potentially run a similar application on that type of network? Like what are the benefits and kind of value there?
– [Jacob] Yeah, so I mean, I think the first thing to take into consideration is just the comparable coverage. You know, I think a lot of people when they’re thinking of like Helium or a lower network and comparing it to like a Verizon or an AT&T they think like, oh those, you know those major telcos are gonna have much better coverage but like I said, we’re in 160-some countries in the world now, you know. I mean so we have comparable coverage to sell, which is really cool especially in those urban areas. I mean the difference is negligible. But Helium basically is a lot cheaper. That’s the main thing. You know, like I talked about asset tracking, so like a LoRa device. I mean LoRa devices in general are going to be cheaper, you know. There’s no SIM card needed, just fewer components and things like that. So, you know, industry average for like a high performing GPS tracker is around $100. You can get, you know, a good LoRa one for half of that and it’s gonna, you know, still do the same kinda stuff. And so that’s a big one right there. The data usage costs, you know. Again, for Helium kind of our standard example is one device sending data every five minutes costs around a little over a dollar per year. Whereas like, again, industry average for like a GPS tracker is gonna be, you know, around $10 per year. So if you’re deploying a large fleet of like tracking devices or something that’s huge savings once you add that. That plus you get, you know, Helium’s a totally decentralized network. So, you know, you’re not getting contracts, you’re not getting locked into any. A lot of cell networks, ya know, you get locked into a contract where you’re probably paying for things that you aren’t really using. You’re paying for, you know, overages on data fees, stuff like that. Like with Helium, you don’t get those contracts. You only pay based on usage. So when you send data, you’re paying for that but you’re not paying for anything that you don’t need. You’re not just locked into a subscription or a contract or things like that. And then just with the Helium blockchain, you’ve got total transparency in transactions and privacy for your data, data is totally encrypted. And so, you know, you see cell networks, telco, stuff like that have been shown to like, you know, sell user data and stuff like that without permission. And so we don’t see any of your data. There’s none of that happening as well. So, you know, there are more, but those are some of the main ones right there between Helium and cell. Yeah, a lotta big benefits to using Helium.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I was just curious kind of how it stacks up in the landscape of different connectivity options that are out there, obviously for solutions, and every technology kind of is more well suited for certain applications versus others just depending on kind of what is needed to have that use case be, or solution be, a success. So all that makes a ton of sense. How do you kind of view something like Starlink influencing the direction that you all are going? Like, how does that potentially either compete or compliment or what is your all’s view on something, you know, that ambitious of a project to kind of try to carve out a role in the IoT connectivity space?
– [Jacob] Yeah, I mean, I’ll be completely honest. We haven’t, or at least I haven’t, talked that much about Starlink. It hasn’t come up that much in the job right now. But, you know, I think that any kind of innovation, any kind of forward movement in this space is always good. You know, even if it becomes as like competition or something, you know. I’m not saying Starlink is Helium but like that type of thing just forces, you know, any company to kind of innovate into maybe, you know, push forward even quicker than they were, come up with some, it might, you know, spur some new idea. Things like that. So, yeah, I mean, I think anything going on with like Starlink, any of that type of stuff it’s a good thing in this space because to be honest, I mean, this space is still, I’m not gonna say it’s new obviously, but you know there’s a lot that can still be done in this space and anyone pushing the envelope there is always good for it.
– [Ryan] Yeah, I think a lotta the conversations I’ve recently had on the podcast are around just increasing the number of choices and lowering the complexity to adoption for IoT and I think obviously network coverage and affordability all play into that especially from an ROI perspective. So any company that’s contributing to that is truly helping kind of overall growth and adoption across the industry as a whole. So that makes ton of sense. Let me ask then. Oh go ahead, sure.
– [Jacob] Sorry, yeah, I was just gonna say, you mentioned ease of use. I think that’s a really big one with IoT, LoRaWAN, anything in that kind of space a little bit. So like you said, anything making it simpler for people to kind of adopt that, deploy solutions, you know, just get it out there more. A lot of people aren’t even aware of IoT or LoRAWAN. You know, I mean talk to people all the time that have never even heard of it, you know? And so yeah, absolutely right. Getting it more mainstream and just making it simpler for people to use, definitely a good thing.
– [Ryan] Absolutely, one of the last questions I wanna ask you before we wrap up here is around, I know you’ve been at the company for maybe, I wouldn’t say it’s the longest time but obviously it’s not the shortest time either, what have you seen in the space since you’ve been in IoT from a challenges perspective that you all have worked to overcome, the industry has maybe is working to overcome, or maybe some of the challenges you see as things we need to be focusing our efforts on in order to help IoT grow from where it is now?
– [Jacob] Yeah, I think kind of what I was just talking about just that education and getting the message out more, ya know, and that’s something we’re really working on at Helium, especially for me on the marketing side, is just showing people like what IoT can do, what it can enable for people, you know. Like all that stuff the city of San Jose, those other things I mentioned, like there are so many real world applications. Like, you know, I could measure, I don’t know. I work with like the university here and, you know with COVID, especially, they wanna monitor room air quality, you wanna monitor number of people in a building, that kind of thing. You know, all those types of things that it’s just an education piece that it’s hard to get out there because people sometimes are just kind of scared of the unknown, you know, and need to just learn and see more of what IoT can do. And then, you know, obviously with COVID, the supply chain issues are rough. You know, I don’t think sensors and devices have been impacted nearly as much as like, you know, just gateways and hardware and stuff like that but we have more makers coming on. You know, it is what it is. There’s not a lot we can do about that, but you know the coverage is still growing. People are still wanting to join Helium and, you know, hopefully things get better
– [Ryan] Definitely agree. So what does the future look like for you all? What’s 2022? What’s, you know, the plan? Like the public stuff you can obviously talk about that you’re most, you know focused on, excited about. It doesn’t have to be necessarily directly related to Helium but it could be related to the industry and things you’re hoping happen.
– [Jacob] Yeah, there are a couple of specific, Helium related things, and ya know, at the risk of being too salesy, people can go check it out on like helium.com, you know. And we have news and stuff like that but like our helium docs can explain some of these things. But like light hot spots, you know/ We introduced staking validaters in June of 2021 to kind of, you know take some of the pressure off the network. The network grows so much, you know, light hotspots are planning on being here sometime in, you know, before the first half of 2022 hopefully. And you know, again, that will just help the network be more efficient, work better, stuff like that. So if you wanna learn more about that check it out on our site. You know Helium has partnered with some major roaming partners. We’ve partnered with Senet and Actility and like some, you know, Actility has like Volvo, Schneider Electric, Cisco. You know, as their users. So just more roaming on the network which means that, you know, obviously that means more network traffic for Helium, more usage, but that’s expanding coverage. You know, for Helium and those partners as well. You know, those are some of the big things that I can talk about. There are some really cool things that I’m working on for sure that we’re excited to have some announcements coming up in the near future.
– [Ryan] And so going to the website’s probably the best way to stay on top of things?
– [Jacob] Going to the website, yes. And the Helium blog. You just connect with the Helium blog. But that gives pretty high level overview of most of the new things that are coming out and announcements, yeah.
– [Ryan] Awesome, well Jacob, this has been a great conversation. Thanks so much for coming on and just kind of diving into all thing Helium, decentralized communication, kinda how, you know, what this is enabling which I think is a very interesting thing for us to be paying attention to as the market continues to grow. So thanks again for your time.
– [Jacob] Perfect, thanks a lot, Ryan, I appreciate it.
– [Ryan] Yeah, absolutely. All right, everyone. Thanks again for watching that episode of the IoT for All Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode please click the thumbs up button, subscribe to our channel, and be sure to hit the bell notification so you get the latest episodes as soon as they become available. Other than that, thanks again for watching. And we’ll see you next time.