FreedomFi sees demand for CBRS offload gear outpacing private wireless

FreedomFi is shipping its first batch of 500 5G gateways. (FreedomFi)

FreedomFi announced it has started shipping its 5G gateways, designed to allow consumers to mine cryptocurrency as compensation for allowing wireless service providers to offload mobile traffic. 

Consumers who signed up to buy a gateway will be able to mine the HNT cryptocurrency created by Helium, a company which has been trying since 2013 to find a way to build a wireless network from the ground up. Helium hit on a new business model with cryptocurrency and has partnered with more than a dozen manufacturers who are now making hotspots that mine HNT and offload IoT traffic from existing LoRa networks.

Several months ago Helium was approached by FreedomFi co-founder Boris Renski. He wanted to use Helium’s crypto mining model to sell open source 5G gateways that connect CBRS small cells to the internet.

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“FreedomFi proposed that the network should also run on 5G, not just IoT,” said Helium COO Frank Mong. “They integrated a lot of the Magma open source stack, and so the combination of the Magma open source from Facebook and the Helium blockchain is really the engine that now drives the expansion of wireless networks for 5G … and it doesn’t have to stop here. This could also work for Wi-Fi.”

FreedomFi evolves

Less than a year ago, FreedomFi was promoting its gateways as enablers of private networks. The company was hoping tech-savvy businesses would purchase CBRS small cells, connect the FreedomFi gateways and build their own private networks using open source code and CBRS spectrum. That business model is still in place, but the company sees a lot more interest in the gateways that can mine cryptocurrency.

“Demand is much stronger (an order of magnitude) for the Helium-compatible FreedomFi gateways versus those exclusively targeting private cellular use cases,” said Renski in an email.  

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Since FreedomFi’s Helium-compatible 5G gateways are just starting to ship, it’s too soon to know how much money users will make. But without even using the device’s cellular connection, people who get a gateway will be able to offload LoRa network traffic and mine HNT, a practice that has already generated thousands of dollars for people using the Helium LoRa non-5G hotspots.

People who want to also offload 5G traffic will need to purchase CBRS small cells to use with their gateways, and FreedomFi will help them get these.

“We currently have a total of 23,000 CBRS small cells on order, being built by small cell manufacturers to be deployed for this initiative,” said Renski. “We expect to have shipped 1000 (and ideally more) of them by November for installs for sure.”

For users, the total cost of equipment will be at least $1,500. The 5G Helium-compatible gateways cost $1,000 and the CBRS small cells will run anywhere from $500 to $5,000, according to FreedomFi.

Some people clearly think it will be worth it. Orders for the 5G gateways have exceeded supply, and FreedomFi is no longer accepting names for its waitlist. It hopes to have 2,000 gateways in user hands by the end of the year.

The payoff for people who buy the 5G gateways will come if carriers start offloading network traffic onto these devices. Helium’s Frank Mong says he “knows it will happen.” FreedomFi’s website says the company is “currently working with several mobile network operators in the USA.”

The team got a big vote of confidence in September when GigSky said it will launch the world’s first eSIM based cellular data plan in partnership with FreedomFi and Helium. GigSky, which uses eSIM technology to provide roaming services to travelers, is hoping to eventually offer a nationwide cellular data plan using CBRS small cells deployed by people who want to mine crypto.