Shawn Fanning’s Super-Charged WiFi Could Change Everything

His company Helium aims to create the first decentralised internet network.

14.06.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Joi Ito (CC BY 2.0)
Photo by Joi Ito (CC BY 2.0)

First, he unravelled the music industry with Napster, the peer-to-peer sharing platform that revolutionised how people listen to their favourite artists.

And now, Shawn Fanning is gunning for communication as a whole. He is the driving force behind Helium, a new company that claims to offer offer high-speed internet at 200 times the range of regular Wi-Fi—yet at 0.1% of the cost of a regular cellular modem.

How? By encouraging people to buy and run a network of peer-to-peer ‘Helium Hotspots’, which connect to users’ normal WiFi and serve as the router’s primary point of connection.

Investors are behind the idea. Techcrunch reports that the ‘LongFi’ company has drawn up $51m over the past few years from investors including Marc Benioff, Khosla Ventures, Multicoin Capital and Union Square Ventures, many attracted by Fanning’s track record.

A range of companies have thrown their weight behind the idea too, including InvisiLeash, which will partner with the company to create more trackable pet collars; Lime, which will use Helium to track lost or stolen bikes and scooters; and Nestle, which will track when to refill water coolers in its offices.

The only snag is that around 200 hotspots are needed to cover a city, and each hotspot sells for $495. Techcrunch reports that Helium hopes to entice buyers by promising each hotspot owner a cryptocurrency token—but recognises that it will be difficult to succeed across telecom technology, enterprise sales and cryptocurrency all in one go.

Nevertheless, Fanning’s force of personality could see Helium’s product through. He is behind numerous technology startups, and although they’ve had widely differing levels of success—Rupture was acquired by Electronic Arts for $30m, while Snocap crashed through worker layoffs and ended up being sold via a fire sale—Fanning continues to command respect from investors and business interests alike.

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