Helium expands hotspot network to Europe and releases personal IoT tracker

Helium Tabs allow users to easily locate lost items up to 10 miles away from one of its hotspots, eliminating the need for Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

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Image: Helium

Helium unveiled its first internet of things (IoT) personal tracking device on Thursday. The device, called Helium Tabs, runs on Helium Hotspots and allows users to easily locate anything from items to pets, without Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity. 

SEE: 5 Internet of Things (IoT) innovations (free Pdf) (TechRepublic)

"We launched the first Helium Hotspot last year," said Frank Mong, chief operating officer at Helium, adding "We're now in over, over a thousand cities in the United States and Canada. The network covers 700,000 square miles or more. I think the most beautiful part of this is that it's owned by the people, it's the people's network. Helium doesn't own it."

Helium Hotspots are a peer-to-peer wireless network that allows low-power IoT devices to send data to and from the internet. Users who own a hotspot are able to earn Helium, a cryptocurrency, as an incentive for providing public coverage, Mong said. 

The hotspots are powered by open-source blockchain technology that can create a blanket of connectivity when connected with other nearby hotspots. Each hotspot can cover up to 10 square miles, so the more people who invest in hosting hotspots, the bigger the network becomes. 

After spreading through 1,000 North American cities within just one year, Helium has decided to expand the network to Europe, with Helium Hotspots expected to begin shipping in early July 2020, according to a press release. 

As for the Helium Tabs, the company was inspired to create the IoT devices after seeing the widespread success of the "people's network," per the release.

How Helium Tabs work 

"Helium Tabs is a tracking product that allows you to attach to your purse, or your dog or cat, and track in real time where that purse or dog and cat is," Mong said. "All that's needed is a Helium Hotspot to be within that five to 10-mile radius to give you that information."

The Tabs use LongFi technology, which is a combination of LoRaWAN wireless protocol and Helium blockchain. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth can typically only track devices up to 100 feet from the network source, while Helium's tech can track for miles. 

Helium Tabs also work on the company's blockchain-based reward system, so each time a Tab connects to the Helium network, hotspot owners will be rewarded with Helium cryptocurrency, Mong said. 

"You're not using any cellular; your Wi-Fi could be out. You could be out in the park or in your national forest," Mong said. "It doesn't matter as long as there's a Helium Hotspot within a few miles." 

Each device is also integrated with security from the start, Mong noted. 

"[Each one] has a hardware-based encryption that's embedded in the sensor itself. One thing that's good about LoRaWAN is that it all uses a private key infrastructure, those are typically very difficult to break into," Mong said. "That means that the data coming out of the sensor, that's going to the user's cloud database or cloud network is all encrypted."

Helium Tabs aren't the only IoT devices that can connect to the hotspots; any device that is compatible with LoRaWAN is able, Mong added. 

The Tabs are tracked via Helium's iOS or Android app, which users can log into and view the whereabouts of their IoT devices, Mong said.

Major brands on the Helium Network include Nestle, Agulus, and Conserv. The company currently has 60 patrons-—or customers who purchase at least 15 hotspots—that are helping to cover their cities with coverage. 

Helium Tabs will initially be available to existing hotspot owners for $49, according to the release.

For more, check out IoT device security: 5 tips for enterprises on TechRepublic.  

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