The Internet of Things may soon run on decentralized networks

SAN FRANCISCO/DUSSELDORF: The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is in a gold rush mood. Last year alone, market experts estimated that more than €15 billion (RM68.97 billion) was spent networking everyday objects with the Internet and with each other.

The range of IoT devices is very wide, including smart dog collars, networked street scooters and heating thermostats, and public bins that signal when they need to be emptied.

As the potential for new smartphone contracts is gradually exhausted, the IoT growth curve is pointing steeply up. Growth rates of 20% per year and more are expected.

But it all depends on network capacity, and that’s where new players compete with conventional telecom providers.

However, these new providers are not looking to make their fortune on the LTE and 5G radio waves, which are subject to licenses, but instead use the LoRaWAN (Long Range Wide Area Network) protocol. This is permit-free and can be used to cover distances of several kilometers.

One such network is Helium. The San Francisco-based company Helium Systems was co-founded by Shawn Fanning, who brought the music industry to the brink with Napster in the early days of the Internet.

As with the Napster music exchange, Fanning’s approach to Helium is not based on centralized structures, but rather on the power of the decentralized masses.

Most of the hotspots that connect Helium’s wireless network to the Internet are not operated by partner companies, but by private individuals.

In return, these individuals receive tokens for the cryptocurrency HNT, which can also be exchanged for dollars or euros. Currently, one HNT token is worth approximately €20 (RM92).

The gateway operators are rewarded with the cryptocurrency for providing network coverage and they also get a share of the revenue that Helium’s commercial customers pay for the transportation of their data.

Mining HNT does not rely on energy-hungry computing activities like Bitcoin does. Instead, a Helium gateway requires no more power than a CFL.

The Helium network now consists of more than 650,000 hotspots in approximately 47,000 cities and 164 countries, and its potential has attracted many well-known investors.

Helium says the LoRaWAN network is significantly cheaper than data transmission over traditional mobile communications.

LoRaWAN technology also offers great potential when it comes to connecting IoT devices.

For example, at Schiphol in Amsterdam it is used to track luggage and goods, while in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, the city authorities are using the technology to monitor parking lots.

In Lyon, France, LoRaWAN is used to measure visitor flows in museums and department stores.

Of course, traditional mobile operators don’t allow companies like Helium to take over the Internet of Things without a fight. They point out their advantages over decentralized networks.

“Licensed networks bring the maximum quality and the highest possible security to the Internet of Things,” said Hannes Ametsreiter, head of Vodafone Germany. That is of great importance, he says to logistics companies that network containers or parcels, for example. – dpa

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