- Helium, a crypto wireless network, will transition from its own blockchain to Solana.
- In an interview with Decrypt, network founder Amir Haleem explains the challenges Helium faced with its current tech and the opportunities on Solana.
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Helium, the crypto-powered wireless network, will officially move from its own blockchain to following a community vote on a proposal. Ultimately, over 81% of the token-based votes went in favor of the migration.
And it could happen quickly. The Helium Foundation announced a Q4 launch for the transition, and in an interview at the Helium House event in New York City on Tuesday, network co-founder and Nova Labs CEO Amir Haleem told Decrypt that he’s “optimistic” about hitting that target.
According to Haleem, the Nova Labs team—which represents the founders of and core contributors to the decentralized Helium network—has already been working on the off-chain oracles to enable the new Solana-driven design. He described the on-chain work ahead, including minting and redemption of tokens, as being “quite a lot easier” by comparison.
It’s another major move for the Helium network. Helium started with a decentralized wireless network for internet-of-things (IoT) devices like sensors and trackers, rewarding users with tokens for running nodes and sharing their connectivity. Now that network is closing in on a million active nodes following rapid growth since the start of 2021.
Helium now aims to do the same with a 5G network for smartphones, which now has 4,500 active nodes—and Nova Labs just announced Helium Mobile, an upcoming phone service that uses both the Helium 5G network and T-Mobile’s nationwide 5G network.
But to scale those networks and accommodate other wireless protocols in the future, Haleem said that the infrastructure needed to change.
When Helium started building the network back in 2017, he said that even then the developers didn’t believe that Ethereum—with its limited transaction throughput and sometimes surging fees—could handle a distributed wireless network at scale. Other options were limited at the time, so the founders built their own layer-1 blockchain network.
But that’s caused issues too. Haleem said that everything is “very deeply intertwined” in the current model, including Helium’s proof-of-coverage and data transfer elements, and that trying to fix or change one thing can have unintended consequences with other network pieces.
— Helium🎈 (@helium) September 22, 2022
“Everything is just like a big, monolithic block,” Haleem told Decrypt. “Iterating quickly was hard. Everything you touch… it was a massive, Jenga-like tower, basically. You move one block and the thing starts wobbling, and we've had downtime and outages.”
Helium’s LoRaWAN (IoT) network coverage is widespread now, but Haleem said that it needs a more reliable backbone to be appealing to certain types of companies and customers that could utilize that coverage for their products. “The reliability of [network data] packets needs to be basically perfect, right?” he said. “Like, 98% isn't good enough, 99% isn't good enough.”
In other words, at least in view of Haleem and Nova Labs, the move is less about Solana and more about scaling and expanding the Helium ecosystem. Other layer-1 blockchain networks could have been viable as well. But there are reasons why Helium’s core developers picked Solana after months of consideration.
One is speed, as Solana can handle thousands of transactions per second at peak: “You can do stuff and it happens instantaneously,” Haleem said. He likened the performance to that of a Web2 app, which is ideal given what he claims are a lot of Helium users that aren’t crypto die-hards.
Solana has dealt with its own stability issues as well, including periods of downtime—as recently as June—which some Helium supporters were quick to note when the proposal launched. However, following recent network upgrades, Solana has appeared more stable than ever. Haleem said that Solana developers are “maniacally focused on that problem,” and he’s confident that stability issues won’t persist.
There’s also a more technical reason why Helium’s core team chose Solana: current Helium wallet private keys are compatible with Solana, Haleem said, which isn’t the case with some other blockchains. That should ease the transition for users, so that tokens can “magically” move over to Solana without any “affirmative action” required for current holders,” he added.
More broadly, Helium’s developers wanted to embrace a more mature blockchain network to tap into the wider crypto ecosystem, enabling access to additional wallets, DeFi protocols, and various decentralized apps and marketplaces. Users will be able to bring their Solana-based HNT tokens elsewhere with ease, in other words, and explore more of the crypto world.
Joining the existing Solana space means that Helium’s developers can just focus on the wireless network, rather than needing to build out an entire ecosystem around it.
“To me, that’s the biggest win,” Haleem said. “That’s really the story here.”