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Helium (HNT) is a decentralized blockchain-powered network for Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Launched in July 2019, the Helium mainnet allows low-powered wireless devices to communicate with each other and send data across its network of nodes.
Nodes come in the form of so-called Hotspots, which are a combination of a wireless gateway and a blockchain mining device. Users who operate nodes thus mine and earn rewards in Helium’s native cryptocurrency token, HNT.
Helium’s goal is to prepare IoT communication for the future, identifying inadequacies in current infrastructure from its birth in 2013.
Helium’s three co-founders Amir Haleem, Shawn Fanning and Sean Carey started the company in 2013.
Haleem has an active eSports and game development background. Fanning, by contrast, is well known for developing Napster, the music sharing service which was one of the first mainstream peer-to-peer (P2P) internet services in the late 1990s.
Carey meanwhile held multiple development roles prior to Helium, which included advertising optimization firm Where, acquired by PayPal.
Helium’s team now consists of members which the company says have experience in “radio and hardware, manufacturing, distributed systems, peer-to-peer and blockchain technologies.”
Helium aims to improve the communication capabilities of wireless Internet of Things (IoT) devices. In 2013, infrastructure around IoT was still in its infancy, but developers wanted to add decentralization to their offering, hence referring to it as “The People’s Network” in official literature.
Its core appeal will be to device owners and those interested in the IoT space, with financial incentives providing further outreach possibilities.
Network participants purchase Hotspots — a combination of a wireless gateway and a miner — or build their own. Each hotspot provides network coverage over a certain radius, and also mines Helium’s native token, HNT.
The network runs on proof-of-coverage, a new consensus algorithm based on the HoneyBadger BFT protocol which allows nodes in a network to reach consensus when connection quality is highly variable.
In addition to HNT, users pay transaction fees in a separate token called Data Credits, which are not exchangeable and tied to individual users themselves.
Approximate mining periods of 30 to 60 minutes unlock rewards which are distributed according to a changing growth plan.
Helium explains that at the start, node owners will accrue more HNT for building out network infrastructure, while later on, it will be more advantageous to transfer device data. This adjustment mechanism for token distribution is expected to last for around 20 years.
As of the start of October 2020, there are 48,712,218 HNT in circulation. When the token launched, the supply was zero, with no premine.
Helium uses a bespoke consensus mechanism called proof-of-coverage (PoC) which rewards users for contributing to mining (validating transactions) and ensuring stability.
PoC is based on the HoneyBadger BFT protocol, which is specifically designed for node communication when conditions are unreliable.
Helium says that the most likely attack vector impacts node operators in the form of inbound ports of Hotspots. For token holders, the platform’s own wallet uses asymmetric keys to help users with private key security.