On Friday, Mashable reported that Helium, a crypto project praised by New York Times earlier this year, and whose parent company is backed by investment firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, had misled people about the companies it works with. Helium advertises on its website that Lime, the mobility company behind these electric scooters and bikes, is using its crypto-powered wireless mesh network. However, the company said Mashable that it has not had a relationship with the company since 2019, and that there has only been initial testing with Helium’s technology.
Now Salesforce, whose logo appeared on Helium’s website right next to Lime’s, says it doesn’t use the technology either. “Helium is not a Salesforce partner,” said Salesforce spokesperson Ashley Eliasoph The Verge in an email. When I followed up to ask about the graphic below, which appeared on Helium’s website, Eliasoph said that “it’s not accurate.”
Sometime between 4:35 PM ET and 5:30 PM ET, Lime and Salesforce’s logos were removed from Helium’s website. The Verge emailed Helium to inquire about its relationship with Salesforce at 4:48 PM ET, to which the company has not responded as of this writing.
Unlike many crypto projects, Helium’s core pitch is actually relatively easy to understand (although there are certainly ways to complicate it if you want). The idea is that you put a Helium hotspot—which can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars—in your house, and your network’s users connect to it when they’re nearby and need some data. The more data that goes through your hotspot, the more HNT (Helium cryptocurrency) you will earn.
In short, it’s a sort of decentralized mesh network, where the individuals running the nodes can profit from providing their data. (However, it’s worth noting that using the home network like this violates the terms of service agreements for many ISPs.) The economics supposedly work because companies or individuals pay to use Helium’s network instead of, say, cellular data.
Members of the r/helium subreddit have been increasingly vocal about seeing poor helium returns.
On average, they spent $400-$800 to buy a hotspot. They expected $100 per month, enough to recoup costs and enjoy passive income.
Then their income dropped to just $20/month. pic.twitter.com/0jx2zLUaiA
— Liron Shapira (@liron) 26 July 2022
Now, however, we have to ask: who will pay for it? Not many people, it seems. As a Twitter thread points outa report from The generalist says that only about $6,500 worth of data credits (or DCs) were used to access Helium’s network last month. That’s a stark contrast to the millions of dollars people have spent on equipment to set up hotspots for the network in hopes of making money, and it would be shockingly low if Lime actually connected the scooters to the network, or if Salesforce customers used it to monitor warehouses, which Helium launched in 2017.
New York Times article, which called Helium an example of “how crypto can be quite useful for solving certain kinds of problems,” listed Lime as well as Victor, a rodent and reptile trap company, as Helium users. Lime has obviously now denied that’s the case (saying it’s sending a cease and desist to Helium), and Victor didn’t immediately respond to The Vergequestion whether it uses the network. The website that Helium designated as the place to buy Helium-enabled Victor mousetraps in its announcement of the partnership no longer appears to be selling them. There also don’t seem to be any mentions of Helium in Victor’s documentation.
However, Helium’s documentation hints at Victor’s products, saying: “one Helium Network user requires 50,000 DCs per month to send data for their fleet of Helium-connected mousetraps. (Yes, these actually exist, and they’re brilliant.)
We also reached out to Dish, which announced last year that it would use Helium’s 5G network. This announcement is also posted on Helium’s website, right near the top under “latest news.”
I would like to end this with a parting thought. The author of Times the story says that Helium couldn’t really function without crypto technology attached, citing the fact that the company launched without any sort of crypto integration, and only came up with the idea when it was on the brink of collapse. But for years, underserved communities have had to build their own local networks after being ignored by the government and communications companies. That’s contrary to what this helium ad for the wood chipper suggests; that people will only be willing to do something for their community if they are paid for it. Then again, it’s not necessarily surprising that Helium misrepresented an important piece of the puzzle.