Mar 4, 2022 - Business

Startup contributes $1 million to attract tech talent to NWA

An old-fashioned radio antenna with strong signals on one side and weak signals on the other
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Warning: This story contains the buzzwords cryptocurrency and blockchain.

What's happening: Fayetteville startup Mycelium Networks is building out a network of Helium hotspots that provide bandwidth for nearby Internet-of-Things devices (anything from smart refrigerators to pacemakers).

  • It's different from a cellular network that uses towers.

Driving the news: The company announced Thursday it's floating $1 million worth of free data on Helium to attract tech talent to Northwest Arkansas.

Why it matters: Developers who want to design and build devices that use the network's technology need access to it. Mycelium leaders hope the offer of data will encourage tech entrepreneurs and developers to relocate to the area.

What they're saying: Spokesperson Jordan Lanning told Axios that because there's extensive hotspot coverage in NWA, the company "wanted to provide an opportunity for people to move here and utilize this data to build innovative technology."

  • Though the fund has been in the works, the recent announcements claiming Arkansas will lead in transportation helped Mycelium leaders decide to launch it this week, Lanning said.
A Helium hotspot sits on a windowsill.
A Helium hotspot. Photo courtesy of Helium

How it works: Helium is a sort of crowdsourced network of about 600,000 hotspots that's still in the Wild West stage. Each hotspot transmits small amounts of data through radio frequencies to other hotspots.

  • Their range is greater than typical household Wi-Fi, so a hotspot at your house could talk to another down the block.
  • The data lift is smaller than on a cellular network, so it won't stream video but could tell you — with the right device — how much rain your garden got.
  • Lime, for instance, uses the technology to keep track of its electric scooters.
  • Data privacy is protected through blockchain technology.

The intrigue: Anyone can buy and install equipment for a Helium hotspot for about $500. Hotspot owners receive Helium tokens, a cryptocurrency called HNT. The more a hotspot is used, the more HNT an owner gets. This is how Helium is building the network.

  • Mycelium is a sort of middleman for those who want to help build the network but don't want to geek out on tech or dive into crypto.
  • The company will install its equipment in a home or office and pay a set monthly fee for the space, usually between $15–$25.
  • For its compensation, Mycelium keeps the HNT, which it hopes will go up in value.

Of note: Lanning said there are about 1,000 hotspots spread out over Northwest Arkansas with about 25% of those owned by Mycelium.

  • Helium maintains an interactive map of all hotspots in the world.
  • Zoom in on your neighborhood.
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