What’s next for Helium 5G: Data transfer & proof-of-coverage rewards

Helium 5G was approved about a year ago by the community as the second wireless network to be supported by the Helium Network.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of big players join the Helium 5G ecosystem and core contributors have made incredible progress on the development work to make the vision a reality. From DISH partnering as the first major carrier roaming on the Helium Network to GigSky offering the first mobile data plan, and Makers unveiling new 5G Hotspots to their lineup, we’re just getting started on what’s possible with a network owned and operated by the people.

With that, we’re excited to update the community on what’s coming next for Helium 5G, including data transfer rewards, Proof-of-Coverage rewards, Oracles, and ways you can get involved.

The next major milestone on the path to Helium 5G is data transfer rewards. With data transfer rewards, you will be able to earn HNT when a compatible 5G device sends data over the Network by connecting to your 5G Hotspot.

The team at FreedomFi is currently working on the technical implementation of data transfer rewards and anticipates it being ready by the end of Q2 2022.

Shortly after the Helium 5G announcement, FreedomFi showed a demo implementation of HIP 27 on the Helium Testnet, settling cellular data transactions to the Helium state channels. Since then, the team has been hard at work, closely collaborating with operators like DISH network, to spec and build what’s now referred to as Magma Cellular Settlement Service.

As one example of many complex integration points between the Helium blockchain and operator infrastructure, consider that all cellular operators follow a highly standardized process for roaming across networks. The process involves operators exchanging data in a prescriptive format with a 3rd party intermediary, commonly referred to as “the clearing house.” The Magma Cellular Settlement service is what translates “the Helium way” of accounting for data transfers (burning HNT into DC credits) into “the operator way” of accounting. For those who are interested to dive deeper, many of the specific call flows between the Helium blockchain and various participants are published in HIP 53.

We’ll provide updates on data transfer rewards as the FreedomFi team gets closer to launch on the Helium Network.

If you own a Helium-compatible 5G Hotspot, you are currently only able to participate in Proof-of-Coverage (PoC) using LoRaWAN — the wireless protocol used for the IoT network. Work is currently underway to introduce Helium 5G PoC, which would enable compatible Hotspots to earn HNT for building 5G coverage and securing the Network.

So, how do we get there? Given 5G is a different wireless protocol than IoT, the implementation of PoC has different requirements. In particular, the work of verifying coverage requires a novel approach that takes advantage of the work already being done by Helium 5G Hotspot owners and encourages new participants to enter the Network.

To solve this, core developers at Nova Labs are working with the FreedomFi team on a prototype witnessing device that would not only verify Helium 5G coverage, but also provide a map of real 5G and LTE coverage across all carriers. It actually leverages Helium’s LoRaWAN Network to report the findings in real-time, creating an extra validation layer as these nearby Hotspots create a paper trail helping to prove when and where the packet was transmitted. This is just one of the first exciting advantages Helium has as we expand towards multiple wireless protocols.

An initial build of the witnessing device is already underway, and testing has begun locally (check out a recent Helium 5G PoC test in the Bay Area below). Core devs intend to create more prototypes and share them with community members open to being testers of this exciting new opportunity on the Helium Network, by June of this year. Once the prototype is complete and the right path forward for data aggregation (and ultimately rewards) is determined, the Nova Labs team will be working on plans to make these available to the public, ensuring that the distribution and accessibility is fair to the community at large deploying Helium 5G.

Exploring Offchain Oracles

A new aspect of how core devs intend to develop the 5G PoC witnessing device (and subsequently rewards) is to introduce a new type of Data Oracle to the Network. As core devs develop this solution, they intend to introduce a formal addition of these Data Oracles to the Network through the Helium Improvement Proposal process.

Typically, oracles solve a unique problem in blockchains where they require a trusted source of external data. In the case of Helium, the ecosystem has a pricing oracle to help with the HNT to Data Credit burn on-chain transaction. Since contracts on a chain cannot directly call external APIs or data sources, they require this information to be available and verifiable to all nodes on the network. As new data required for verifying Proof-of-Coverage of 5G nodes is introduced, core devs believe that using oracles will enable not only rapid iteration but also enable the use of data sets and models that would be too cumbersome on-chain. For example, economic, population, and topographical data all become possible inputs to a coverage incentivization and reward model.

Additionally, core devs imagine that these Data Oracles could be used for other networks (including LoRaWAN). And with the things the network learns through introducing Oracles, there’s a potential path for addressing some of the backlog of ideas that have been presented in the last several months for the security of the PoC system as a whole. This includes several community-approved ideas like establishing Beacon-to-Witness Ratios to new ideas like Hotspot Scoring and Witness Decay. These datasets and actions could be verifiable implemented by trusted, off-chain Oracles and lead to actions on chain like issuing appropriate rewards for good coverage.

All of these experiments are subject to community approval and core devs are excited to continue to hear about and work with community members on these initiatives.

Join the Ecosystem

This is an exciting time for the ecosystem and it’s amazing to see Helium 5G evolve over the past year with support from companies such as FreedomFi, DISH, GigSky, Bobcat, Calchip, Baicells, and more.

As the development work marches towards new milestones, stay tuned for updates on Helium 5G over the next few weeks and months.

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