Using Blockchain to Further this Endeavor
DISH recently announced that it will collaborate with FreedomFi, an open 5G networking company, on a pilot program that may provide the former’s current and future wireless customers with access to the world’s first community-driven, neutral host CBRS hotspot network. This collaboration furthers DISH’s belief that the next generation of wireless networks can be cloud-native open-source platforms, leveraging OpenRAN.
Open-source platforms unlock innovation among developers, according to DISH, which provide better and faster-to-market products and services. DISH and FreedomFi believe their collaboration will help encourage individuals and communities to take part in their connectivity future.
“As DISH deploys our own smart 5G network across the country, we seek partners who are innovative, regardless of whether they are one of the largest technology providers in the world or a startup with a disruptive idea, like FreedomFi,” Chris Ergen, head of the Office of Innovation, DISH Wireless said in a statement. “We are fully committed to our buildout and view this pilot as a valuable opportunity to further connectivity, innovation and openness. Our pilot program with FreedomFi leverages CBRS GAA spectrum, as well as the open-source Magma Core, which was developed with key contributions by Facebook Connectivity.”
“DISH is working with us to enable the use of GAA CBRS spectrum to pioneer an entirely new way to connect people and things,” Joey Padden, CTO and co-founder, FreedomFi said in a release. “The CBRS-based 5G hotspots will be deployed by individuals, creating opportunities for users, partners, and the entire ecosystem.”
DISH and FreedomFi will also actively work on a bilateral roaming agreement, the companies announced. Both companies believe a diverse and robust open ecosystem is essential to unlocking innovation and the full economic benefits of next generation connectivity.
FreedomFi also recently launched FreedomFi One, the world’s initial consumer-deployable cellular base station giving customers with zero knowledge of LTE or 5G technologies the ability to bring up a cellular network – by simply plugging in FreedomFi One into a FreedomFi Gateway. All configuration and setup are fully automated and happens behind the scenes.
“An average cost to bring up a small cell site in the US today is $36,000, most of which is the cost of labor to complete the setup and configuration,” Padden said in a statement. “Through software automation and innovative open-source technologies like Magma, we have cut that cost by two orders of magnitude. The 50,000 small cells we will deliver is more than Verizon currently has in the United States.”
The news of the collaboration comes not long after DISH had its initial publicly available 5G network test in Las Vegas, Light Reading reports. Although the results were mixed, DISH has presented a viable 5G network to compete with the wireless carriers in the U.S. Emil Olbrich, Signals Research Group VP of Networks, noted DISH has “some work to do to catch up” and the company’s 5G network was not as strong as T-Mobile’s in Las Vegas. Olbrich did concede that DISH’s 5G days are just beginning and it will likely improve its network in time.
So, if DISH has a 5G network that’s operational, but still needs work, why is it already looking to innovate with a neutral host CBRS network? Keep reading to see why DISH is exploring all of its options when it comes to the fifth generation of wireless connectivity.
DISH teams up with Helium to leverage its network’s blockchain model
Before DISH partnered with FreedomFi, the cabler announced a partnership with Helium in October. Helium is currently building the world’s first decentralized wireless network to simplify connecting devices to the internet by rewarding (paying) people to become a network operator. The cabler became the first major carrier to use Helium Network’s blockchain-based incentive model with customers deploying their own 5G CBRS-based hotspots.
The Helium Network is a customer-deployed, decentralized wireless infrastructure that creates and delivers data-forwarding hotspots. Customers can provide and strengthen 5G wireless coverage by using a CBRS spectrum when they install a hotspot in their home or office. When customers install a hotspot, they’re paid in Helium network-based tokens ($HNT). The company’s blockchain is powering its network by creating a “new wireless economy through a breakthrough economic model known as the burn-and-mint equilibrium (BNM).”
This is not DISH’s first foray into blockchain, however. It was the largest company to accept Bitcoin in 2014 as well as the first subscription-based television provider to accept it as currency. DISH also added Bitcoin Cash as payment provider in 2018. The following year GoChain added DISH as a signing node. The company and Input Output Global, the tech company behind Cardano blockchain, also announced a partnership agreement to build blockchain-based services together.
“Blockchain technologies hold tremendous potential for the wireless industry, and Helium is among the leading innovators who have demonstrated that the blockchain incentive works by creating the largest decentralized, unlicensed wireless network across the U.S.,” Chris Ergen, head of the DISH Office of Innovation said when the companies announced the partnership. “As we build out DISH’s 5G facilities-based network, we will continue to look for innovative technologies and business models that complement or support our wireless business.”
Helium’s decentralized wireless network coverage has grown to over 240,000 LoRA-based hotspots across 21,000 cities in North America, Europe and Asia. There are more than 500,000 additional hotspots currently back-ordered and over 50 new manufacturers waiting to be approved to build and sell Helium-compatible hardware.
“Using Helium Network’s technology and blockchain-based incentive model, DISH is a pioneer in supporting an entirely new way to connect people and things,” said Amir Haleem, CEO and co-founder, Helium said in a statement. “The CBRS-based 5G hotspots will be deployed by customers, creating opportunities for users, partners and the entire ecosystem.”
How the DISH, FreedomFi and Helium will work together
DISH working with Helium and FreedomFi to develop coverage plans is a clever way to expand 5G wireless coverage, according to PCMag. DISH hasn’t disclosed much as how its work with FreedomFi will transpire, but as PCMag speculates, FreedomFi will sell small cell sites that users can put in their window that would use the CBRS band’s unlicensed parts to collect cell traffic and send it over homes or business cable/fiber connections. In exchange for the installment, the user gets paid.
“Since this is a column and not a news story, I can say what I think is happening, Sascha Segan wrote for PCMag. “DISH will pay Helium 50 cents per gig; Helium will pay everyone who hosts a hotspot in their
who hosts a hotspot in their HNT crypto tokens; and the cable providers get left holding the data traffic, which is a weak point in the plan, but let’s just enjoy the schadenfreude there while we can.”
Meanwhile, FreedomFi is currently promoting its Gateway solution as the “first omni-protocol miner for the Helium network.” FreedomFi Gateway will mine HNF for providing LoRa coverage, but is also expandable with certified CBRS small cells to earn HNT cryptocurrency by offloading cell data for carriers like DISH Wireless and GigSky, according to the company website.
FreedomFi Gateway users will also need a radio, certified to operate in the CBRS band to earn HNT for mobile data offload.
“We’re currently working with a number of CBRS radio manufacturers to certify their products’ compatibility with FreedomFI Gateway and the Helium network,” the company said on its website. “We expect the radios to cost between $500 and $5,000, depending on radio signal strength and throughput capabilities. The more powerful and expensive radios will enable owners to mine more HNT rewards.”
Perhaps the best way to think about how the DISH, Helium and FreedomFi partnership will help users set up their own affordable small-scale network is to think of DISH as the cellular backbone, ZDNet reports. Helium provides the next link in the bridge as it delivers the data-forwarding hotspots than enhances 5G wireless coverage via CBRS. Finally, Helium connects the DISH network to the FreedomFI devices with WHIP, an open-source, standards-compliance wireless network protocol designed for low-power devices over large areas. The Helium Decentralized Wire Network (DWN) delivers wireless access to the internet for devices using multiple independent access points, which are also miners.
The combination delivers with a cost-effective way to bring 5G connectivity to businesses and customers and an opportunity to earn virtual money.
“The rapid rollout of Helium 5G with ecosystem partners like FreedomFi is proof that an incentive model powered by blockchain is the future of deploying wireless infrastructure at scale,” Helium COO. Frank Mong said. “We’re excited to see consumer-owned 5G cities light up across the US, enabling high bandwidth devices to be supported on the Helium Network for the very first time.”