Decentralized wireless network Helium, a crypto company whose business is centered on a real-world, non-financial application, has raised $200 million in Series D (late stage venture funding) at a $1.2 billion valuation. Tiger Global and FTX Ventures are among the new investors. Existing backers include Khosla Ventures, GV, Multicoin Capital, Munich Re Ventures and FirstMark Capital.
The company previously raised around $110 million in venture capital funding, per PitchBook, plus $111 million last summer via a token sale led by Andreessen Horowitz.
Helium is now building a crypto-powered decentralized wireless network that provides bandwidth and collects data from internet of things devices. The network is made up of devices called Helium hotspots that can send small amounts of data over long distances using radio frequencies. These hotspots can reach 200 times farther than conventional Wi-Fi hot spots, and share their owners’ bandwidth with nearby internet-connected devices.
Helium, which was founded in 2013, didn’t start off as a crypto company. Its founders originally tried to build a long-range, peer-to-peer wireless network in the old-fashioned way. But they struggled to get enough participants, and the network stalled. So instead of building its network itself, Helium decided to make it fully decentralized and let users build it themselves for reward: owners of network hotspots receive Helium tokens (HNT), with the amount increasing the more the hotspot is used. HNT’s current market cap is $2.9 billion, although it’s not yet traded on many of the most popular crypto exchanges.
Anyone can use the Helium network, although most of its users so far are companies like Lime (which has used Helium to keep tabs on its connected scooters) and the Victor mousetrap company (which uses it for a new line of internet-connected traps). More than 500,000 Helium hot spots are in use around the world, with thousands being added to the network every day.
Not everything could be improved by attaching itself to a cryptocurrency mining scheme, but in Helium’s case, crypto made sense as a way to encourage participation and give hotspot owners the satisfaction of building something they owned. There’s way too much money going into crypto and web3 companies for the primary utility to be speculative trading. Helium and others of its sort could be the off ramp to sustainability.