On Friday, mashable reported that Helium, a crypto project praised by The New York Times earlier this year and whose parent company is backed by investment firms like Andreessen Horowitz, had misled people about the companies it works with. Helium advertises on its homepage that Lime, the mobility company behind those electric scooters and bicycles, is using its crypto-powered mesh wireless network. However, the company said mashable that it has had no relationship with the company since 2019 and that it has only tested Helium’s technology for the first time.
Now, Salesforce, whose logo appeared on Helium’s website alongside Lime’s, also says it doesn’t use the technology. “Helium is not a Salesforce partner,” Salesforce spokesperson Ashley Eliasoph . told me The edge in an email. When I asked about the image below, which appeared on Helium’s website, Eliasoph said “it’s not right”.
Sometime between 4:35 PM ET and 5:30 PM ET, the Lime and Salesforce logos were removed from the Helium home page. The edge sent an email to Helium at 4:48 p.m. ET asking about its relationship with Salesforce, to which the company has not responded at the time of writing.
Unlike many crypto projects, it’s actually relatively easy to understand Helium’s core pitch (although there are definitely ways to make it more complicated if you want). The idea is that you put a Helium hotspot — which can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars — in your home, and the users of the network connect to it if they’re nearby and need some data. The more data that passes through your hotspot, the more HNT (Helium’s cryptocurrency) you earn.
Basically, it is a kind of decentralized mesh network, where the individuals running the nodes can benefit from providing their data. (It’s worth noting, though, that using your home Internet in this way violates the terms of service agreements for many Internet service providers.) The economy supposedly works because businesses or individuals pay to use the Helium network instead of, say, mobile 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 a month, enough to recoup their expenses and enjoy passive income.
Then their earnings dropped to just $20 a month. pic.twitter.com/0jx2zLUaiA— Liron Shapira (@liron) July 26, 2022
Now, however, we have to ask ourselves: who wants to pay for that? Not many people, it seems. As a Twitter thread points to ita report of the generalist says only about $6,500 in data credits (or DCs) was spent last month to access Helium’s network. That’s in stark contrast to the millions of dollars people have spent on equipment to set up network hotspots in the hopes of making a profit, and it would be shockingly low if Lime actually connected its scooters to the network, or if Salesforce. customers it to monitor warehouses, as Helium pitched in 2017.
The New York Times article, citing Helium as an example of “how crypto can be very helpful in solving certain types of problems,” listed Lime as well as Victor, a rodent and reptile trap company, as Helium users. Lime now clearly denies that is the case (and says it’s sending Helium a shutdown), and Victor didn’t immediately respond to The edge‘s asking if it is using the network. However, the site touted by Helium as the place to buy Helium-enabled Victor mousetraps in the 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 refers to Victor’s products, saying “a user of a Helium Network would need 50,000 DCs per month to transmit data for their fleet of Helium-connected mousetraps. (Yes, these really exist, and they are glorious.)”
We also reached out to Dish, who announced last year that it would use Helium’s 5G network. That announcement is also on Helium’s homepage, at the very top under ‘latest news’.
I want to close this with a parting thought. The author of the Time the story says that Helium couldn’t really work without crypto technology, citing the fact that the company was launched without any form of crypto integration, and only got the idea when it was on the brink of collapse. But for years underprivileged communities have had to build their own local networks after being ignored by the government and communications companies. That goes against what this chipper Helium ad suggests; that people are only willing to do something for their community if they are paid for it. On the other hand, it’s not necessarily surprising that Helium misrepresented an essential piece of the puzzle.