The Race to Usage Domination — The Gun Has Gone Off!

Inno­vate, be relent­less, and make the net­work usage grow” says Robert Putt, an ear­ly Heli­um adopter and LoRaWAN expert. Rob wrote one of the most use­ful arti­cles on get­ting your Hotspot off relay (back when that was an issue) and has spent years in the LoRaWAN space. He’s now work­ing with the well known BFGNeil on the Track­pac project.

Heli­um has been an incred­i­bly excit­ing ride so far, but as far as the gen­er­al pub­lic goes, has one main stum­bling point: It’s not yet being used. 

While that may seem like a giant prob­lem, there are two crit­i­cal (and often un-noticed) aspects: Remem­ber, the net­work is still brand new. While it neat­ly solved the “chick­en and egg” prob­lem when it comes to how to deploy gate­ways when no one is using gate­ways yet, we’re left now with a (gold­en) egg: A giant, unused network. 

This giant unused net­work has two main prob­lems, both of which are what the Sil­i­con Val­ley folks call “high qual­i­ty” problems. 

First, it grew so fast it out­paced the abil­i­ty of the mar­ket to pro­duce hard­ware to be used on it. In fact, it grew so fast that it out­paced the mar­ket’s abil­i­ty to keep up with sup­ply­ing the hard­ware to build it, nev­er mind the sen­sors to use on it. This caused the main con­ster­na­tion, unfair­ly attrib­uted to Heli­um Inc, of not being able to place an order for a min­er. Heli­um built the first 5,000 min­ers. The oth­er 895,000 or so were pro­duced by third par­ty man­u­fac­tur­ers that had to go through a vet­ting process and imme­di­ate­ly have the order ship. 

The sen­sors that will pro­duce the most net­work data have not been built yet. This applies both to cur­rent avail­able sen­sor ideas like vehi­cle track­ers and soil data track­ers as well as future solu­tions that only make sense when you have a wide­spread, cheap to use LoRa net­work. One exam­ple of a Not-Yet-Here sen­sor is a LoRa-enabled device per­ma­nent­ly fas­tened to a cat­alyt­ic con­vert­er. The tech­nol­o­gy exists to do this, but no one has built that busi­ness yet. Will you be the one to do it? 

As Jame­son Buffmire, VP of Decen­tral­ized Wire­less over at CalChip Con­nect, has said:

The ene­my of inno­va­tion is not com­pe­ti­tion, it’s inertia”

-Jame­son Buffmire, VP Decen­tral­ized Wire­less at CalChip Connect

The prob­lem is not that there’s a ton of com­pe­ti­tion, it’s that this isn’t the way we’ve done things before. Inte­grat­ing LoRa, satel­lite, cell, and the rest of the pro­to­cols isn’t brand new, but it ain’t, by a long shot, commonplace.

This brings us to the sec­ond prob­lem that comes from hav­ing a giant net­work no one is using — with­out usage you don’t have a real world stress-test, and with­out a stress test you don’t know if you can rely on it. Clever oper­a­tors like Paul over on at disk91 are mit­i­gat­ing this risk by build­ing net­works that CAN roam onto Heli­um but also have oth­er net­works roam­ing built in as a redundancy. 

This is prob­a­bly the way we’ll see Heli­um usage grow. For a long time, usage will slow­ly accrete as more and more fleets start to roam onto it. Unlike the bub­bly ear­ly days, this gives the net­work time to work out bugs with­out cat­a­stroph­ic fail­ure and build a rep­u­ta­tion for reli­a­bil­i­ty and ease of use. In the long term it’ll prob­a­bly become the de fac­to world­wide LoRaWAN it set out to be, and few peo­ple will remem­ber this ini­tial build out turbulence. 

Remem­ber, what it looks like right now is NOT what it’ll look like in a year. Here’s an exam­ple of today (Sep­tem­ber 30th, 2022) on a Chirp­stack serv­er run by Track­pac.

Now we cir­cle back to where we start­ed, with Rob Put­t’s idea: If you want to be a suc­cess­ful play­er in the long term world of IoT, now is the time to be relent­less and build. Whether you fig­ure out how to use Chirp­stack, devel­op a new sen­sor, build the abil­i­ty for oth­ers to use and re-sell net­work ser­vices, or just pay atten­tion to the mas­sive inno­va­tion going on in the wider space, this is an inflec­tion point for those will­ing to do the work. 

Very few are pay­ing atten­tion, the field is wide open. The lim­its are your imag­i­na­tion — it does­n’t get any better.

Go for build.”


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