CBRS: Citizens Broadband Radio Service

I’m going to write about CBRS today, a band of electromagnetic spectrum in the U.S. that, thanks to the FCC, has been opened up and allowed for some real innovation.

If all you care about is making money from wireless mining, then this might not interest you, but here’s why I care.

Crypto fascinates me (and many others) because it combines so many technical and social fields — cryptography, computer science, economics, art, and psychology — to enable new models of human coordination.

Projects like Helium and Pollen add two new elements to the equation: devices devices that operate in physical space1 and the electromagnetic layer — radio waves moving through space and time to transmit and receive data between people and devices.

I’m not an expert in any of the above disciplines, I’m just a curious generalist trying to figure this stuff out, which is why my mind was blown last week when I started considering something that I’d always taken for granted — how the hell does data move through the air?

Like, when I connect my phone to Wi-Fi in my apartment, how does that data travel through the air and to my phone? Is it magic?

OK, it’s not magic. But it certainly feels like magic.

At some point I’ll take the time to try and grok the entire concept of wireless communications today I’m just going to wrap my head around a small piece of the electromagnetic spectrum, the band from 3.55 GHz to 3.70 GHz.

What is CBRS?

First of all, CBRS is not the same as CB or “Citizens Band” radio that truckers use to talk to each other2

CRBS stands for “Citizens Broadband Radio Service.” It refers to a specific slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, or more specifically, the radio spectrum.

The electromagnetic spectrum encompasses the waves that are all around us: visible light, x-rays, gamma rays, UV rays, TV and radio broadcasts, satellite transmissions, and many more.

The radio spectrum is a subset of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radio waves are waves with a frequency in the range from 3 Hz to 3,000 GHz (3 THz).

In the U.S., the radio spectrum is tightly regulated by the NTIA (federal uses) and the FCC (non-Federal uses). Those agencies have, in the past century or so, divided up the spectrum for a wide array of different uses — from military satellites to cell phones to TV broadcasts and of course, actual AM/FM radio.

It’s a lot to manage, as you can see from this handy chart from the NTIA:

Frequency allocations for the radio spectrum in the U.S.
(View the full-sized version (35 MB)).

CBRS refers to a small band of frequencies in the radio spectrum: 3.55 GHz to 3.70 GHz.

Following a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015, CBRS was designated as a band of spectrum shared among three tiers of users:

CBRS spectrum breakdown.
(Source: 3.5 GHz Band Overview | Federal Communications Commission)
  1. Tier 1 – Incumbent Access. Includes U.S. military radar and, for a finite period, grandfathered wireless broadband licensees in the 3650-3700 MHz band.
  2. Tier 2 – Priority Access. The Priority Access tier consists of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) that are licensed on a county-by-county basis, allocated via auction. Each PAL consists of a 10 megahertz channel within the 3550-3650 MHz band. PALs are 10-year renewable licenses. Up to seven PALs may be licensed in any given county (with a max of four PAL channels per licensee).
  3. Tier 3 – General Authorized Access (GAA). Free spectrum in the 3550-3700 MHz band that can be used by anyone as long as it’s not being used by someone in the higher tier.

There’s a lot of jargon in there, so let me try and simplify it.

We’ve got CBRS, which is the range from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz. That range has been divided up into 15 channels of 10 MHz each.

Of the first ten channels, up to seven of the ten channels were auctioned off in 2020 to large companies like Dish, Verizon, T-Mobile, and many others that I haven’t heard of.

That leaves a total of 8 channels available for general use — the three channels that were not sold in the auction3, plus five additional channels reserved for open use.

That means that we have have 8 GAA channels that are free to use for anyone, as long as their devices meet certain standards and don’t interfere with a user from a higher tier (sorry, the U.S. Navy radar takes precedence over your Helium 5G miner).

CBRS and rules-based regulation

The usual way radio spectrum works is that the different bands get divided up and auctioned off. Whoever wins the auction gets the right to use that spectrum for their devices. Want to start a new cell phone network? You’ll need to either buy up spectrum or lease it from an existing owner (e.g. Verizon).

The general access portion of CBRS works differently. This spectrum isn’t complete anarchy — it’s still regulated, but unlike most of the spectrum, it’s “licensed by rule,” meaning you as a Helium miner (or the Helium company/DAO) don’t need to explicitly reserve it.

It is a new approach to spectrum management: a lightly regulated approach somewhere between the unregulated, anything-goes world of Wi-Fi, and the tightly regulated, mobile operator controlled world of 4G and 5G. CBRS wireless networks communicate with a Spectrum Access System (SAS), which keeps track of who is using what and what remains unused, to gain access. As an operating model, CBRS combines the freedom and simplicity of Wi-Fi with the security and control of a mobile network.

Free CBRS Spectrum –What it Means for Property Owners

The governing rules are a bit complicated and perhaps a topic for another time. For our purposes, we just need to understand that as long as a device follows the rules, it can use the spectrum.

Implications for decentralized mobile networks

One implication of opening up some of the spectrum to this rules-based regulation means that a portion of the radio spectrum is now available for smaller use cases, like creating an LTE network for a college campus, factory, stadium, or shopping mall.

But more importantly, CBRS enables entrepreneurs to experiment with new business models for mobile networks without first raising and investing massive amounts of capital.

Without CBRS, a new project like Pollen would have to buy up spectrum all across the country, paying millions of dollars just for the right to transmit on the spectrum, before a single dollar is spent on physical hardware.

CBRS allows allows for networks to grow from the bottom up with innovative incentive models.

Use cases can emerge organically as entrepreneurs find innovative ways to use the spectrum, allowing projects like Helium 5G and Pollen to emerge and potentially flourish (or get out-competed by better upstarts).

CBRS opens the doors to new economic models for building decentralized wireless networks.

  1. Yes, I know Bitcoin miners and Ethereum nodes are physical devices, but their geography isn’t fundamental to their performance. 

  2. CB radio began in 1945 when the FCC opened up some radio spectrum for short-range personal and business communications, like radio-controlled airplanes or walkie talkies. During the 60s, CB radios became more popular with radio hobbyists and small businesses (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc.). Then in the 70s, CB radio really took off with truck drivers, and the reason may surprise you — according to Wikipedia, it was the 1973 oil crisis, in which the US government imposed a nationwide 55 MPH speed limit to mitigate fuel shortages (trucks are more fuel-efficient at that speed, I presume). Truckers began to use the CB radios more to help each other located gas stations with existing fuel supplies, as well as avoid speed traps, and then to organize blockades and convoys in a 1974 strike (sound familiar?).  

  3. In counties where fewer than seven channels were sold at auction, the un-auctioned channels are also free for general use, provided a Tier 1 incumbent isn’t using them. 

Pollen Mobile is bootstrapping a decentralized crypto mobile network

According to their website, Pollen Mobile is “the world’s first decentralized mobile network that’s built on the blockchain and owned and operated by its users.”

The project is fairly new — their whitepaper was just published in January 2022.

Pollen was started by Pronto, a San-Francisco-based company that develops autonomous driving technology for off-road applications (e.g. trucks in the mining industry). The trucks needed mobile connectivity to work, but because mines are usually in areas without reliable or affordable cell coverage.

Then, thanks to FCC changes to CBRS in 2020, Pronto was able to build its own cell towers and their own mini-mobile networks to connect their autonomous vehicles.

This led them to spin off the mobile-network building part of the operation into Pollen Mobile.

Pollen is currently active in San Francisco, with expansion to New York and Los Angeles underway as of March 2022.

How does Pollen Mobile work?

Pollen doesn’t use cell data; it’s a data-only network. You can still make “phone calls” on the network but they have to go through something like FaceTime or another purely-data-based call app. You can’t send traditional SMS text messages, but you can send messages through Signal, WhatsApp, Telegram, and other similar messaging apps.1

The advantages of a data-only network are security and privacy. Data can be encrypted (if you use encrypted apps like Signal), but cell data cannot be:

“We are building a “data-only” mobile network because legacy concepts such as “phone calls” and “text messaging” are inherently insecure, incompatible with our Core Values, as outlined below, and can be replicated with applications such as Signal, iMessage, FaceTime, and WhatsApp, which are compatible.”

Pollen Whitepaper 0.0.1

Data will be transmitted using CBRS (aka Citizens Broadband Radio Service) spectrum in the US, which is open for anyone to use (as far as I know). You won’t need a license to use the network or carry data through a Pollen Device.

The Pollen Ecosystem: Flowers, Bumblebees, and Hummingbirds

The Pollen ecosystem runs on three types of hardware: Flowers, Bumblebees, and Hummingbirds.

The Pollen Mobile Ecosystem (image from the Whitepaper)


Flowers are antennas that wirelessly transfer data between your ISP and the users of the Pollen network.

Flowers range in size from small devices (like a Dandelion) that can be placed on your roof or suction-cupped to your window, to large six-foot towers (like a Buttercup) that you can place on your roof or perhaps a nearby hilltop.2

Flowers are mobile network antennas that are connect to your home or business internet connection. When Pollen-enabled devices (i.e. a cell phone with a special Pollen eSIM) connect to a flower, the Flower is rewarded for connecting the Hummingbird to the internet and hauling data to the user’s phone.

I like that Pollen does seem to be really serious about privacy and is also building a company in a crypto native way — Pollen doesn’t store personal information of flower owners — instead the ownership rights are registered via an NFT that will live in the owner’s Solana wallet, providing anonymity for the Flower provider.


Bumblebees are small, portable devices that validate the Pollen network. They come with built-in LTE connectivity and GPS antennas. They validate network coverage by reporting network coverage statistics as they move through the physical world.3

Bumblebees collect metadata (not network throughput data) from Flowers, including signal strength, internet connection speed, and GPS location.

For people familiar with Helium, the Bumblebee concept may be a bit new. Helium miners carry data and do proof of coverage while Pollen has a separate validating device.

In other words, Bumbebees do the proof of coverage work for the network.

You carry a Bumblebee with you as you move around in your day-to-day life, driving your car or riding your bike, or just walking around, and you get rewarded whenever your Bumblebee connects to a Flower.

Like Flowers, Pollen does not track personal information of Bumblebee owners, and ownership is registered via a Solana NFT.


A Hummingbird is basically an eSIM that you can use to connect your cellphone to the network.

I’m new to this so I’m not sure exactly how eSIMs work yet, but I’ll be testing it out when I get my first batch of devices.

My understanding now is that an eSIM allows you to connect to a second mobile network without changing the physical SIM card in your phone. So your main SIM can connect to Verizon, AT&T, or some other provider while the eSIM allows you to also connect to the Pollen network when in range of a Flower.4

Eventually, Hummingbird users will have to pay for the data they use (at $0.50 per gigabyte), but in this initial phase, Hummingbirds will get free data and earn PCN tokens for connecting, as a way to incentivize end users to start using the network.

And $0.50 per gigabyte is really cheap for data (my current provider, Google Fi, charges $10/gig).

What about phone numbers?

There’s no plan to offer Pollen phone numbers, but users can still obtain a number without a legacy phone plan through a service like Google Voice or purchasing a prepaid burner phone.5

How much does the hardware cost?

The most recent device sale on March 9, 2022 offered three packages. Each package included one Flower, one Bumblebee, and five Hummingbirds (to hand out to friends).

Prices ranged from $1,299 for the a Dandelion (an indoor Flower) package to $5,999 for a Buttercup (a large, long-range Flower) package.

Those prices were higher than earlier sales, and in this last sale, all 150 units sold out in less than fifteen minutes, so we may see prices go up as demand is quite high right now.

How is Pollen different from Helium and FreedomFi?

Your phone can connect directly to the Pollen network with a Pollen SIM (or eSIM). It’s like Verizon, AT&T, etc. only at a lower cost and with privacy and anonymity.

With Helium + FreedomFi, your phone can connect to the Helium 5G network, but only through a participating telco like DISH or GigSky (although other major telcos will probably jump on board soon, TBD).

Here’s a comparison chart for context:

(source: What’s Different About Pollen?)

How much money can you earn with Pollen?

OK, the part that you probably care the most about — how much money can you make money with this?

First, some very basic tokenomics.

The $PCN Token

Pollen Coin ($PCN) is a Solana-based token with s a fixed supply of 1 billion:

The token is live, but it’s not publicly listed on any exchanges (be careful — there are some other tokens with the same PCN symbol out there).

Right now, 300,000 PCN are distributed each day to network participants. That amount will slowly decrease over the course of the next ten years.

No, seriously, how much can you earn?

Well right now, if you’re not in SF, LA, or NY, then the answer is 0.

But for device-owners in those cities, let’s look at some numbers.

There are three ways to earn PCN – by setting up a Flower, carrying a Bumblebee with you, and using a Hummingbird eSIM on your phone.

We can look at the Pollen Explorer to see what some devices are currently earning in San Francisco. I haven’t done a systematic survey but on average, it looks like Camellia flowers are earning about 1,800 PCN per day and Buttercups are earning about 2,500 PCN per day.

These numbers vary widely and the top devices are earning way above the average: yesterday, the top Camellia earned 22k PCN, the top Dandelion earned 17k PCN, and the top Buttercup earned 13k PCN.

And Bumblebees seem to be averaging around 250 PCN per day (there’s less variance with Bumblebees; yesterday’s top performer earned 1,067 PCN).

Now, to calculate the earnings, we need to know the price of PCN. The token isn’t trading on any exchanges yet so we don’t know what the price will be in a public liquid market. But, there’s an OTC trading group on Telegram and as of yesterday there was at least one buyer willing to buy 100k PCN at a price of $0.25.

That translates to:

  • A Camellia earning 1,800 PCN/day, that would be roughly $450 per day.
  • A Buttercup earning 2,500/day would net you around $625/day.
  • A Bumblebee earning 250 PCN/day would net you ~$62.50/day.

Some (major) considerations

Before you liquidate your childrens’ college fund to buy as many Flowers as you can get your hands on, let us consider that caveats abound.

First of all, the current daily earnings are being split among a very small number of devices in SF. As more devices come online, the earnings pie will be distributed among an increasingly large number of devices.

Second, PCN emissions will decrease over the next ten years, with regular halvings until the incentive supply is depleted.

Third, earnings are highly location-dependent.

Fourth, the price of PCN may go down. We have no idea what will happen when there’s a liquid market. Presumably most participants are holding their earned PCN. Some of them will want to sell when the token gets listed, which could drive the price down. Eventually, as the network grows with real users, the value of PCN should increase, but that may be years away.

All that being said, it seems pretty clear that in today’s conditions which will almost certainly change soon, a single Flower can be quite lucrative.

I bought my first Flowers yesterday and I’m excited to see how they work once I deploy them in Los Angeles. That was a sizeable up-front investment in an unproven technology, but for me, the upside justifies the risk.

And look, apart from making money, which *cards on the table* is something I very much enjoy, there are some truly compelling reasons to participate in Pollen, like helping to bootstrap a national (and perhaps someday global) decentralized, private, and secure data network for consumers.

Pretty cool stuff.

Resources and further reading

  1. I’m curious about is how this will work for the end user — do you have to switch networks back and forth to place a traditional call? Can I route all of my phone’s data through Pollen while continuing to receive SMS and calls? I’m guessing that Pollen is hoping to eventually be big enough to obviate the need for traditional cell networks, but that’s a few years off. 

  2. For being a company focused mainly on autonomous industrial vehicles, they sure do a have a playful side when it comes to naming. You get the feeling that they’re having fun with all of this. 

  3. It’s not clear to me if Bumblebees can also transfer data. The whitepaper says “In the initial phase of the network’s deployment, Bumblebees will be able to connect to the network and transfer data for free – in Phase II, Bumblebee owners will need to purchase Data Credits using PCN for connectivity and data transfer” but I can’t find any information on this. 

  4. I’m especially curious about how automated this is — does your phone switch back and forth automatically? We’re a long ways away from Pollen’s coverage being robust enough to completely replace your existing cell provider, so the mechanics of this will be important for spurring adoption. I’ll write about this more in future posts. 

  5. For more on what it means to have a mobile network that isn’t tied to phone numbers, see Why Is Pollen a Data-Only Network? 

An introduction to DIMO and mining cryptocurrency with your car

DIMO is a relatively new entrant into what I call the wireless mining space. They’re building an open IoT platform with a focus on cars and trucks.

In the words of the DIMO team:

“DIMO is a user-owned IoT platform that allows drivers to collect and share their vehicle data. Drivers get insights about their vehicles, contribute data to the open ecosystem where it can be used to build new technology and applications, and earn DIMO tokens for participating.”


Another way of putting it: DIMO is a way to mine cryptocurrency with your car by sharing the wealth of data that’s generated by your car’s onboard computer while driving. That data could eventually be used to talk to other (driverless) cars or power insurance applications.

Drivers can install a DIMO device, called an AutoPi miner, which uses cellular networks to transmit data from your car. In exchange for sharing vehicle data with the network while driving, drivers are rewarded with $DIMO tokens.

There are still a lot of open questions with DIMO as they’re in the very early stages of building the network. The AutoPi devices have not yet shipped and tokens are not yet being distributed.

Nevertheless, DIMO is a really interesting entrant into the wireless mining space and worth checking out, especially because it provides a way to potentially earn money while doing something you would be doing anyway — driving around town.

What problem does it solve?

The specific applications are still a bit murky, but let’s be honest, you’re not buying hardware from blockchain startups because you have a concrete use case that needs solving ASAP.

Here’s what DIMO has to say about why they’re building the platform:

The walled gardens of the Web 2.0 era have been reproduced in the physical world through IoT networks like Google Home, Facebook Portal, and Alexa. Vehicles are the next and largest category of devices to be connected. Automakers have created companies like Otonomo and Wejo to replicate the Web2 model of reselling user data, while Amazon, Google, and Apple are doing everything they can to embed their software into vehicles.

This model has proven it delivers value to corporations first and users second (if at all). Instead of a rich ecosystem of transparent and composable applications, we have silos that can’t interact without brittle, rent-seeking intermediaries. Violations of privacy, security, and interoperability guarantees show that incentives are not aligned between equipment manufacturers (OEMs), regulators, and the public.

Why we’re building it – DIMO Overview

I think the best way to summarize this would be to say that as cars get smarter and we move into an epoch of driverless vehicles, web2-style companies are going to pop up with their extractive business models, walled gardens, and penchant for selling your data. DIMO is aiming to cut them off at the pass and provide web3 solutions to IoT, similar to Helium (and as we’ll see below, they have plans to compete directly with Helium).

What kind of apps could I expect? What can I do with the data?

I don’t have clear answers to these questions, even in a hypothetical sense. It’s easy for me to envision what web3 can do for e.g. social media or finance, but less clear when it comes to cars and trucks — it’s not like I’m currently doing anything with my car’s data, apart from getting phone notifications when my tire pressure is low or whatever.

But maybe there’s a lot of stuff going on that I’m not aware of. I’m pretty ignorant about all of this but here we are, trying to figure it out.

DIMO does give us a hint at where they plan to go.

The early phase consists of:

Ranked by priority, our focus during the bootstrapping phase will be: Build vehicle supply through $DIMO token issuance to early data providers.Incentivize OEMs to make it easy for users to share data from their devices with developers. Build tooling that makes device data more accessible to developers so they can create new user experiences using the open & neutral DIMO platform and economy.

— via How DIMO scales – DIMO Overview

In other words, we’re in the bootstrapping the network phase. Here’s where we might head after that:

It’s interesting to see that they plan to go beyond vehicles into the broader IoT ecosystem in Phase 3 (2025-2030). It looks like cars are the beachhead from which they plan to expand and compete with more comprehensive IoT blockchain networks like Helium.1

Who is the team behind it?

It’s a little tricky to find on their website, but the do have a Team page and the FAQ says:

The full-time core team is made up of 8 engineers with deep mobility, web3 and IoT experience as well as 3 non-technical contributors that split responsibilities associated with go-to-market, organizational design, finance, strategy, marketing, governance, and partnerships.


What can you do now to start earning?

There are two ways to get started.

The first is by ordering an AutoPi, DIMO’s data mining device. They currently sell for $345. To order an AutoPi, you have to first sign up for an account and register your car.

Unfortunately, they’re sold out right now for US customers but orders for European and UK customers will open in March 2022.

I pre-ordered an AutoPi a few months ago but haven’t received it yet. It should arrive at some point in summer 2022.

The other way to connect your car:

If you have a connected car subscription with your auto OEM (e.g., Ford, Tesla, Toyota), you can connect to DIMO using that username and password. To power this, we use Smartcar, which is like Plaid (how most websites will integrate with your bank) but for your car.

It’s a great option because if your car is supported, you can connect it immediately instead of waiting for hardware or physically installing a device. The tradeoff is that you’ll see less data about your car and earn lower rewards. There are also privacy implications that vary based on vehicle OEM (GM, Ford, Toyota, Tesla etc) of using your existing connected vehicle service. We’ll detail these in a later post.

How A Car Connects To DIMO. DIMO is a user-owned IoT platform that… | by Andy C | DIMO Network | Medium

What cars are supported?

All cars built in 2012 or later should work, except for Teslas, which do not require a device to work with the DIMO network. Tesla owners should not buy an AutoPi because a dedicated Tesla integration is coming and they’re exploring Tesla-specific hardware.

How does the AutoPi device work?

It plugs into your car’s OBD2 port, which is a data port available on most vehicles (it’s usually somewhere under the driver console, near the pedals).

I’ll see how it works when mine arrives, but for now I believe you just plug it in and connect to the network to start earning.

What blockchain does it run on?

Eventually AutoPi devices will connect to Helium. But the v1 device that’s being sold now won’t use Helium. Instead, it will use existing cell networks, with a plan for v2 to use Helium 5G networks next year.

What about privacy?

It’s clear that the DIMO team is concerned about privacy and that it’s one of the raisons d’être for the project. That being said, I haven’t been able to find any information about how this will be achieved or how exactly data from your car will be handled.

That leaves us with a lot of questions: How will vehicle data be transferred? Who gets to see it? What protections will be in place?

And like, where exactly does this data go once I plug in an AutoPi and start driving?

I’m looking forward to getting answers to these questions over the next few months.

The $DIMO token

The $DIMO token is an ERC-20 token on the Ethereum blockchain. The contract is already live: 0x5fab9761d60419C9eeEbe3915A8FA1ed7e8d2E1B.

$DIMO tokens will be used to reward drivers for connecting their vehicles and streaming data to the protocol.

It’s also a governance token.

And there will be staking, but instead of being used to validate transactions, staking will serve as a way to insure against data consumers/developers misusing your data:

When data consumers and app developers agree to DIMO’s terms of service, they’ll put up a deposit (their stake) of $DIMO that can be taken away (slashed) if they misuse user data. This keeps dispute resolution simple, transparent, and out of the courts. The more data they consume, the more $DIMO they’ll need to stake. This has the added benefit of aligning them with DIMO as they’ll need to own more $DIMO tokens to get access to additional data, and users stand to be compensated more if their privacy is compromised.

What is $DIMO – DIMO Overview

How do you earn $DIMO tokens?

Initially, you will be able to earn simply by connecting to the DIMO network and sharing your car’s data while you drive.

The exact rewards will depend on how long you’ve been connected, what type of car you drive, the types of data you provide.

The goal is to incentivize drivers to connect cars with valuable data, thus using token distrubtuions to bootstrap the network.

The total token supply is 1 billion.

45% of the total supply will be allocated to funding the demand rewards over the next 40 years, with issuance decreasing by 15% each year.

Issuance will be weekly to smooth out the irregularities in driving behavior during the day (e.g. to avoid under-compensating drivers during rush hour and over-compensating drivers in the middle of the night).

Here’s a sample calculation of how points will be calculated and distributed for an individual vehicle:

There will also be a separate Green rewards pool for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, which will earn more for being green.

As the network grows and there is more demand for car data, in addition to incentivized rewards, drivers will be rewarded based on what third parties are willing to pay for their data. The, as in most of these bootstrapped web3 networks (even Bitcoin) is to eventually replace mined rewards with earnings based on actual data use and transfer.

This is all still a bit hypothetical as no rewards are being distributed, and probably won’t be until some time in the summer of 2022.

And at the moment, there’s another way to earn $DIMO tokens: by referring other users to the network (feel free to use my referral link).

And you can earn tokens for contributing to the DAO.

How much can you earn?

There’s no way to know now how profitable an AutoPi miner will be as the token hasn’t been listed yet and doesn’t make a market value and we only have a vague idea of how much an individual device will earn (that hasn’t stopped me from pre-ordering an AutoPi, but hey, I love to play around with this stuff before it’s ready).

What can you do to get started?

First, you need to create an account and register your car.

Once you’ve created an account, you can pre-order or purchase an AutoPi device, although if they’re sold out you will have to sign up for their email newsletter or join the Discord to get notified of when sales open again.

Or you can connect your car via the SmartCar integration.


  1. It looks like a similar playbook as Pollen, which is skipping IoT altogether and landing their beachhead with mobile data hauling to compete with Helium. Hey, with all these protocols competing, it could be a really golden age for wireless miners 🙂  

An introduction to proof of coverage for blockchains

I’m going to explain wireless mining in a minute, but first some background on crypto mining in general.

Proof of work mining and Bitcoin

Mining generally refers to a way that blockchains maintain their networks. For instance, Bitcoin miners run specialized hardware (known as an ASIC) to process transactions on the network. As users send transactions, those transactions go into something called a mempool, where they wait to be processed.

They compete by using specialized hardware (known as an ASIC) to rapidly make mathematical computations to solve a math problem. The first ASIC that solves the problem wins the right to process the next block of transactions, which in turn is added to the chain (and thus the term, blockchain).

This process is known as proof of work (POW) because the miner has to do work in order to win the right to process or “mine” the next block.

As a reward for mining a new block, Bitcoin miners receive two forms of compensation. The first is the block reward, which is new Bitcoin created out of thin air. As of 2022, the block reward is 6.25 BTC.

The other form of compensation is transaction fees, which are the fees that Bitcoin users pay in order to have their transaction included in the next block.

You may have heard about Bitcoin’s fixed supply of 21 million coins. Every four years, the size of the block reward is cut in half, until all of the 21 million coins have been mined (this will happen around the year 2140).

Proof of stake mining and Ethereum

Ethereum also uses POW to maintain consensus, but the hardware is different — Ethereum miners use graphics processing units (GPUs), which are basically graphics cards for computers. They’re also used for gaming, video editing, and other processing-intensive computations related to computer graphics.

At some point in 2022, Ethereum will switch from POW to something called proof of stake (POS). POS validators (not miners) set aside 32 Ether in a smart contract in return for being able to run a node that processes new transactions. Ethereum validators will be rewarded with new Ether issuance plus a portion of the transaction fees (most of the transaction fees will be burned).


Before we get to Proof of Coverage (POC), let’s talk about the basics of Helium.

Helium is a blockchain that uses its native token, HNT, as currency. Unlike Bitcoin and Ethereum, which aim to provide decentralized digital money and smart contracts, the Helium network is a decentralized network of wireless communication.

Miners set up a physical hotspot, which is basically a small computer that connects to the internet and has an antenna for communicating with nearby hotspots and receiving wireless data.

A Hummingbird H500 Helium miner.

The first use case of a Helium hotspot was to carry data for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. An IoT device would be something like a smart doorbell, your refrigerator or microwave (if internet-enabled), a humidity sensor, or even a car.

These devices use something called LoRaWAN, which stands for Low Power, Wide Area Networking. The LoRaWAN protocol was designed specifically to wireless IoT devices.

The advantage of LoRaWAN is that it has a longer range than other wireless protocols like Wi-Fi or cellular networks, but the trade-off is that it has less data throughput.

Additionally, LoRaWAN devices generally don’t need to stream large amounts of data. They might be sending a little bit of data a few times an hour, as opposed to you sitting at home streaming a massive amount of data while watching a YouTube video.

What exactly is proof of coverage?

Here’s how the Helium docs describe it:

The Helium blockchain uses a novel work algorithm called “Proof of Coverage” (PoC) to verify that Hotspots are located where they claim. Put another way, PoC tries to verify, on an ongoing basis, that Hotspots are honestly representing their location and the wireless network coverage they are creating from that location.

proof-of-coverage | Helium Documentation

The mechanism for POC is a challenge and involves three distinct roles:

1. Challenger – The Hotspot that constructs and issues the POC Challenge. Hotspots issue challenges approximately once per every 360 blocks. (See note below)

2. Transmitter – Sometimes called “Challengee”. This Hotspot is the target of the POC challenge and is responsible for transmitting (or “beaconing”) challenge packets to potentially be witnessed by geographically proximate Hotspots.

3. Witness – Hotspots that are geographically proximate to the Transmitter and report the existence of the challenge packet after it has been transmitted.

proof-of-coverage | Helium Documentation

Helium hotspots earn HNT rewards when they successfully submit a challenge to the Helium blockchain.

In other words, POC is a way of ensuring that there is Helium network coverage in a particular area. The rewards are structured in such a way so that people are incentivized to place hotspots in areas that are lacking coverage (there’s a lot of nuance to this, but this is the basic economic model). Hotspots also receive rewards for transmitting device data on the network.

As of February 2022, there are 581,840 active Helium hotspots around the globe.

Helium hotspot coverage in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and part of Asia.

You can use the Helium explorer to see how many hotspots are in your current location. Helium’s network map is divided up in hexagons and here you can see a closer look at one of the hexagons in Los Angeles, the city that currently has the most hotspots.

Helium hotspots in Hollywood.

Technological and economic innovation

A lot of people think of blockchains as being technologically innovative, which they are. But there’s a second, perhaps more important, form of innovation taking place — economic innovation. Tokenized blockchains like Helium provide an economic model for bootstrapping massive networks that are owned by the operators of the network.

Consider what you would have to do in the past to create a wireless network.

You would need to raise a ton of capital in order to build out cell towers all over the country. With Helium, individuals bootstrap the network by buying small devices and placing them in their homes and businesses, incentivized by wireless mining rewards to provide coverage where the most people are and where the fewest existing hotspots are.

Well-designed economic incentives spur individuals to organically provide a robust network of coverage without direction from a top-down entity. Pretty cool, right?