Imagine deploying CBRS gear on homes to offload mobile traffic

Two leaders of wireless technology are thinking far more futuristically than almost anyone in the traditional mobile ecosystem.

Amir Haleem is CEO and co-founder of Helium, a company that has created a global IoT network whose infrastructure is deployed by individuals. These people mount a radio device on the roofs of their homes or businesses, connect it to Helium via an app, and help to create a wireless network, using the LoRaWAN protocol. This network can then be used by industries that need such an IoT network to connect their factory sensors, for example.

“We think people have all the requisite tools to build a wireless network: real estate, internet backhaul and power,” said Haleem. 

So far, there are about 30,000 Helium devices deployed around the world, and Helium has sold another 200,000 devices. Salesforce is a big-name company that is starting to use the Helium IoT network.

In some ways the concept is similar to a solar energy system where people mount solar panels on their roofs, and they connect those panels into their local electric grid, which then gives them credits on their electric bill. Sometimes a person’s solar panels generate more electricity than they need, in which case they receive money from the electric company.

In Helium’s case, of course, it wouldn’t do anything so pedestrian for its billing and payment system. Instead, it’s created a cryptocurrency called HNT. Those people who deploy the Helium devices on their personal property – they’re considered crypto miners – earn HNT in exchange for the trouble they’ve gone to deploying the devices and using their own property and electricity. They can either keep their HNT coin as an investment, or they can exchange the coin for regular currency.

CBRS 5G Network

Enter FreedomFi, a startup that’s helping organizations to create their own private wireless networks that use Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.

FreedomFi is working with Helium to take the whole “People’s Network” concept and use it for a distributed CBRS 5G network.

Individuals can now order a FreedomFi CBRS radio, mount it on their homes or businesses, and connect it to a CBRS network via an app. And these miners will also receive HNT coin. The company is currently accepting pre-orders for the equipment, which is expected to cost $500. The cost of the additional equipment an individual may choose to plug-in to the gateway for mobile data offload could vary, depending on setup.

Boris Renski, co-founder of FreedomFi, said, “Right now the focus has been on IoT, which is very different than cellular. What we are doing is bringing this concept to the cellular ecosystem. Only instead of plugging in a LoRaWan radio, in our case they will be plugging in a CBRS radio.”

He said those organizations that set up a private wireless network using FreedomFi’s technology would be ideal candidates to participate in the distributed CBRS network.

Renski pointed out that aside from creating private wireless networks, one of the prime objectives for the use of CBRS spectrum was for wireless operators to offload some of their mobile traffic. Big carriers such as Verizon and T-Mobile purchased CBRS spectrum, and they can use the spectrum in some of their dense urban markets to offload traffic.

RELATED: Verizon, Dish & cable top list of CBRS auction winners

Cable companies such as Comcast and Charter also bought CBRS spectrum. They’ve talked about building some of their own wireless infrastructure so they can use the spectrum to offload some of their MVNO traffic from Verizon’s network. This will save them money on wholesale leasing costs.

Comcast and Charter also offload wireless traffic onto their millions of deployed Wi-Fi access points. Some of these access points are in public locations, but millions of them are also in people’s homes and businesses.

Renski said, “Many operators have been offloading their cell towers into consumer-deployed Wi-Fi access points in a pattern referred to as carrier Wi-Fi.” But he pointed out that individual customers aren’t getting compensated for the use of these Wi-Fi access points in their homes. 

“The use case we’re going for is carrier offload,” said Renski. “You can still offload to Wi-Fi, but CBRS has a lot of qualities that are better for offload: you can easily do the handovers; Wi-Fi- handovers are a lot harder."

With FreedomFi’s strategy, customers could get compensated if carriers decided to offload traffic onto their CBRS devices. And Renski said FreedomFi is talking to some wireless carriers, including a Tier 1 in the U.S., about roaming agreements and carrier Wi-Fi.

He said 5G, especially on mmWave spectrum in cities, requires a lot of small cells. And it’s very expensive and time-consuming to negotiate all the permits and details with municipalities.

He said Helium has proven “this upside-down model of very quickly rolling out wireless infrastructure,” compared to the traditional way where carriers deploy big radios on big towers.

RELATED: CBRS and open source software power wireless networks in national parks

FreedomFi’s main gig is to help organizations set up their own private wireless networks. It recently worked with Access Parks to deploy “mini 5G networks” at national parks.

Renski said anybody that has set up a FreedomFi private wireless network would make an ideal candidate to also participate in the carrier offload opportunity. They could “deploy this mini 5G to aggregate their network into the bigger macro network,” he said.

Former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said in a statement, “This exciting news by Helium and FreedomFi highlights a great new path to utilize CBRS and delivers on the promise of innovation and creativity always envisioned out of the band.”