Dish, FreedomFi collaborate on CBRS venture with Helium

One of the pieces in Dish Network’s deal with Helium that uses the CBRS spectrum is falling into place: FreedomFi will be part of a pilot program.

The FreedomFi gateway is an integral part of making everything work, said Chris Ergen, head of the Office of Innovation at Dish and son of Dish founder Charlie Ergen.

“It’s really the Helium community, FreedomFi and Dish that are working together to make this CBRS network work together,” he told Fierce.

FreedomFi supplies the gateway with the core that will connect to any number of CBRS-enabled antenna and radio systems. It uses the Magma core, which was developed by Facebook Connectivity and the community therein, and it’s based on open source. According to Chris Ergen, it all dovetails perfectly with one of the whole ideas behind CBRS, which is about fostering innovation and accessibility in wireless.  

The General Authorized Access (GAA) portion of the CBRS band is available without a license; a separate part of the band revolves around Priority Access Licenses (PALs), which are licensed for a fee. The GAA portion was intended from the get-go to provide an avenue for just about anybody with the wherewithal to use the CBRS 3.5 GHz spectrum band without having to spend a lot of money on a traditional license, which typically is the domain of big wireless carriers.

FreedomFi previously has made these gateways for private LTE, so it’s a natural fit. “You can plug any radio and antenna combination into their commodity network appliance and the radio and antenna will provide that type of coverage,” said Jennings Orcutt, manager of Strategic Partnerships at Dish.

The FreedomFi device is where the Helium software sits, so it’s running the accounting to determine how much data traffic has passed through, and that’s where the user earns the crypto currency, or Helium native token. The market determines what those tokens are worth, which currently ranges around $25 or $30.

Separately, FreedomFi today announced the launch of FreedomFi One, which it bills as the first consumer-deployable cellular base station giving customers with zero knowledge of LTE or 5G technologies the ability to bring up a cellular network, simply by plugging in FreedomFi One into a FreedomFi Gateway. FreedomFi customers will be receiving shipments of FreedomFi One starting today.

RELATED: Dish partners with Helium on hotspot model featuring CBRS, blockchain

It’s worth noting that Dish’s work with Helium and FreedomFi isn’t directly related to Dish’s requirements to build out a 5G network per the U.S. government pact that it worked out as part of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. This is a separate deal, and one that Ergen characterized as setting the tone for Dish in terms of innovation.

Dish was part of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) announcement last month where AWS unveiled AWS Private 5G, a new managed service to help enterprises set up and scale private 5G mobile networks in their facilities. Unlike that, the Helium endeavor is not purpose built for a particular enterprise but more of a community-driven and grassroots effort.

Dish’s stand-alone 5G network will be targeting a number of users when it’s up and commercially running. “What we’re doing with Helium is something a little bit different from that effort,” Ergen said. “I think we’re trying to make sure that we are at the leading edge of technology development, of community development, of network development, and this stuff is really cool… For us, it’s about trying new things, being innovative and being willing to work with these open-source communities to enhance connectivity for our customers and for the world, really.”