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No matter how cheap or fast paid internet service gets, the Internet of Things (IOT) won’t take wings until we have ubiquitous access to a completely decentralized, open-standard network that does not require a provider subscription. This month, we may be a step closer.

Let’s talk about internet connected gadgets. Not just your phone or PC—and not even a microwave oven or light bulb. Instead, think of everyday objects that are much smaller and much less expensive. Think of things that seemingly have no need to talk with you.

Now think of applications in which these tiny things need to communicate with each other and not just with you. Think of the cost of this “thing” compared to the added cost of continuous communications. Do so many things really need to talk in the first place?

First, there were Trackers…

Have you tried one of those tracking devices that help you find a lost bicycle or wallet? Tile is the most visible brand. They offer trackers shaped like dog tag, a fat button or a credit card. They recently began offering users the ability to replace the battery. In the past, you had to buy new trackers every year.

Trackers are useful, but connectivity is either…

  • Very expensive: Each devices requires a mobile phone data plan
  • Intermittent and short range: Tile uses Bluetooth and relies on a community of owners to “pick up” on your lost or stolen object. This only occurs if another user stumbles into close range range and with their Tile app active on a mobile phone.

Tile was cool in its heyday, but that day is passing as we transition into the Internet of Things (IOT). It took me a few years to fully embrace the need for an internet of “things” or how it differs from the internet that we use every day. In an effort to more quickly bring about your own Ahahh! moment, consider just one example.

The Chandelier (an example with apologies to Sia)

Consider a huge chandelier across the domed ceiling of a grand opera house. It has 85,000 tiny LEDs that can throb and pulse during animated light shows. Each individual light is replaceable—only 10¢. But getting a scaffold and a maintenance crew to the 50 foot dome takes 6 hours and costs almost $500.

Every month, one or two of the tiny lights go dark (or get stuck on the wrong color). Fortunately, expensive maintenance can be delayed. A few bad LEDs cannot be seen from the auditorium below. They are only a problem when many lights go dark:

a) More than 2% of bulbs —OR—
b) More than 8 bulbs in any cubic region of 250 LEDs —OR—
c) More than 3 bulbs positioned at a critical juncture of special-effect animation
d) Any LED programmed to be green for more than 250 mS during the Disney Little-Mermaid animation

These minimum operating conditions may sound complex, but they were determined at the time of installation by a meticulous trial with a focus group and survey forms. Dozens of volunteers looked up at the chandelier and watched several programmed light shows.

Trying to count faulty lights and measure them against these criteria before each performance is nearly impossible. Should we chuck these standards and just leave the maintenance decision in the hands of whomever is managing the facility each night?

No. Standards are good. There is a better way.

Imagine if all the little LEDs could communicate with each other and generate a weighted vote as to whether maintenance is required. Now, imagine that the added circuitry to communicate between LEDs—and even to managers and maintenance staff—cost no more than the LED itself. Just pennies for the circuit. No communications infrastructure or subscription is needed at all.

This example may seem a bit extreme, but it is taken from real life, and a perfect example of the Internet of Things. This is just the beginning. As IOT takes off, a connected society will venture far beyond Bluetooth trackers into applications that we cannot yet imagine.

But how will the internet things be connected—especially if so many devices are tiny, inexpensive and portable? We cannot expect every dog collar and portable asset to have a mobile subscription plan and an IMEI/MEID.

And short range tracking (like the Bluetooth Tile) is not too helpful for keeping tabs on your dog when he gets off leash. Or perhaps you want to track an asset that is less precious—for example, a soccer ball. You don’t just want to find it, you want to study game dynamics as it is kicked across a field. What about your favorite earrings? They belonged to your great grandmother. Imagine that they could never be misplaced. With IOT, everything possible. Apps and benefits are heading toward us like a freight train.

IOT doesn’t require 5G speed, but to be truly transformative, it requires ubiquitous, low-power and free connectivity. Coverage must be thorough, at least at a community level.

Do We Really Need IOT?

You bet we do! Just envision possibilities.

With miniaturization and the rapidly dropping cost of electronics, there are some tiny or inexpensive things could benefit greatly by constant connectivity. Today, my washing machine and air conditioner are WiFi enabled. Connectivity is even built into light bulbs.

But early connected smart home gadgets are designed primarily to talk within a home. When traveling, you might want an alert if water is leaking into the cellar. But let’s face it: When at the office or on vacation, most people don’t care to dim the kitchen lights or know when a load of laundry is ready for transfer to the dryer.

This is starting to change. Gadget makers all over the world are preparing for an era of remarkable information and utility that will emerge when devices communicate not just with their owners, but with each other. When tiny things can talk, a world with free, ubiquitous and redundant connectivity, will bring unexpected and remarkable benefits.

How to Get from Here to There?

All this requires simple, free and ubiquitous wide area networking. Most analysts expect that the brave new world will take wings until a popular, widely deployed internet access method emerges—one that does not require a service provider.

Does free internet access, with community wide coverage and a sustainable business model exist?

Enter the people’s network: The Helium hotspot. With a splashy adoption campaign, it is positioned to be the first successful mass-deployment of a very long range, low power signalling standard. If successful, Helium could jump start a category of access and coverage that is just what is needed for the next big thing.

The Helium hotspot, is a crossover between a residential router, and community internet access. Most importantly, it disintermediates the process. No ISP? Don’t worry! It is not required to get into the game and to enjoy significant benefits.

I think of Helium as Rooftop Communications on steroids (an early community mesh network that was way ahead its time). If 5 or more individuals in a typical city set up their own hotspot, every user enjoys shared community access to the Internet—even if only one of participant has internet service. In fact, a bridge to the legacy internet is not even an issue to access resources and data within the community. Every town service, store, event, school and library is online without anyone having a paid subscription to any service provider.

Helium is just beginning to roll out across the world. Early adopters acquire a Helium hotspot and they effectively “own” their city. At first, it works at moderately low speeds and over very long distances. Only a few are needed to kick start a city. When 20 or 30 residents join the party, network speed, coverage, consistency and overall utility become compelling. Not 5G or 4G—but capable of servicing critical needs on the go or as a back up method of Internet access. When this clever IOT network gets traction, it will eventually service most internet needs other than video.

Helium is the first Consumer product to use the low-power LoRa radio standard (Helium calls it “LongFi”). User owned Hotspots form a super mesh-network that the company hopes will cover entire continents. Unlike your router or smartphone hotspot, with Helium, there is no ISP or cell tower. Your neighbors are your peers and your entry ramp to the internet for services that are still on a legacy, subscriber network.

Enter The Blockchain: Seriously—Adoption It is token powered!

As if this weren’t exciting enough, Helium adoption is powered by a blockchain—like Bitcoin. No kidding!

Don’t let this deter you from testing Helium and taking control of your own city. Regardless of your opinion on Bitcoin and crypto, the blockchain is a clever lever to incentivize and reward adoption.

Helium hotspot ads are everywhere, but the first LongFi router is not cheap. Buyers are investing in the long game. Early adopters won’t find immediate value in hosting other users, but you will be amply rewarded as the technology is adopted. Hence, a blockchain token reward mechanism. The Helium reward token a functional cryptocurrency token. Some call it an Independent Coin Offering (ICO). Whaaat?! Hold on! Aren’t ICOs rip-offs?…

I have broad contempt for ICOs (they are all scams!). This fervent opinion forced me to carefully evaluate my enthusiasm for Helium. It almost led me to abandon research and look for an alternate long-range, decentralized communications ecosystem.

But the blockchain does not necessarily make for a bad actor. A functional token with no underlying pyramid scheme is not an ICO. It is a clever mechanism to encourage viral adoption of a chicken-and-egg technology; one that offers enormous public benefit.

Technology Application & Business Model

LoRa can achieve competitive web access speeds at 1~3 Km. Helium hotspots will more likely have mesh-hand-off spacing of 15~20 Km at first. This results in a signal of 5 kbps or less. Depending on how effective are the hotspot and hand-off incentives, Helium may ultimately compete with sky-based WiFi, satellite schemes or community WiFi as a free moderate-speed, internet service.Helium is intended for IOT devices, but can also be used as a last mile layer for user Internet access. During the early build out of infrastructure in any region, it is clearly optimized for low speed IOT communications.


Helium doesn’t completely satisfy requirements that we set forth in the very first paragraph above. I assume that it uses a proprietary standard to poll and packetize data. (I am not sure of this. Perhaps someone working with the project reach out with a clarification). And at $495 for a long range, low power Helium hotspot/router, it may be a bit early for all but the most bold entrepreneur to experiment with Helium. If you don’t live in a large and densely populated urban area, you are unlikely to find many peers with whom to share spectrum, data and gateways.

But if you open your mind to the possibilities: tools, gadgets and services that can benefit from private networks or municipal infrastructure that was previously the exclusive domain of town governments, railroads and first responders… If you can imagine these things—or a profitable role in accommodating these things—then a personal Helium Hotspot may be in your future.

I plan to jump in with both feet. I will be shaping my career around Helium. It’s a bit early, but that’s the whole point. For me, it is a gamble worth taking.


Philip Raymond co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He is a top writer at Quora.

At Quora, I occasionally role play, “Ask the expert” under the pen name, Ellery. Today, I was asked “Is it too late to get into Bitcoin and the Blockchain”.

A few other Bitcoin enthusiasts interpreted the question to mean “Is it too late to invest in Bitcoin”. But, I took to to mean “Is it too late to develop the next big application—or create a successful startup?”. This is my answer. [co-published at Quora]…

The question is a lot like asking if it is too late to get into the television craze—back in the early 1930s. My dad played a small role in this saga. He was an apprentice to Vladamir Zworykin, inventor of the cathode ray tube oscilloscope. (From 1940 until the early 2000s, televisions and computer monitors were based on the oscilloscope). So—for me—there is fun in this very accurate analogy…

John Logie Baird demonstrated his crude mechanical Televisor in 1926. For the next 8 years, hobbyist TV sets were mechanical. Viewers peeked through slots on a spinning cylinder or at an image created from edge-lit spinning platters. The legendary Howdy Doody, Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan were still decades away.

But the Televisor was not quite a TV. Like the oscilloscope and the zoetrope, it was a technology precursor. Filo T. Farnsworth is the Satoshi Nakamoto of television. He is credited with inventing TV [photo below]. Yet, he did not demonstrate the modern ‘cathode ray’ television until 1934. The first broadcast by NBC was in July 1936, ten years years after the original Baird invention. (Compare this to Bitcoin and the blockchain, which are only 7 years old).

Most early TV set brands died during the first 10 years of production: Who remembers Dumont, Andrea and Cossor? No one! These brands are just a footnote to history! Bear in mind that this was all before anyone had heard of Lucille Ball, The Tonight Show or the Honeymooners. In the late 1950s, Rod Serling formed Cayuga Productions to film the Twilight Zone in New York. Hollywood had few studios for dramatic television production, and the west coast lacked an infrastructure for weekly episode distribution.

Filo T. Farnsworth demonstrates an advanced television receiver

Through the 1950s (25 years after TV was demonstrated), there was no DVR, DVD or even video tape. Viewers at home watched live broadcasts at the same time as the studio audience.

The short answer to your question: No. Absolutely not! It’s not too late to get into Bitcoin and the blockchain. Not too late, at all. That ship is just pulling into the dock and seats are mostly empty. The big beneficiaries of blockchain technology (it’s application, consulting, investing or savings) have not yet formed their first ventures. In fact, many of the big players of tomorrow have not yet been born.

Philip Raymond is a Lifeboat columnist and contributor to Quora. He is also co-chair of Cryptocurrency Standards Association and editor at A Wild Duck.

Google is off to a solid start with the “we make hardware now” thing.”

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Predicting an economic “singularity” approaching, Kevin Carson from the Center for a Stateless Society writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution (2010) we can look forward to a vibrant “alternative economy” driven less and less by corporate and state leviathans.

According to Carson, “the more technical advances lower the capital outlays and overhead for production in the informal economy, the more the economic calculus is shifted” (p. 357). While this sums up the message of the book and its relevance to advocates of open existing and emerging technologies, the analysis Carson offers to reach his conclusions is extensive and sophisticated.

With the technology of individual creativity expanding constantly, the analysis goes, “increasing competition, easy diffusion of new technology and technique, and increasing transparency of cost structure will – between them – arbitrage the rate of profit to virtually zero and squeeze artificial scarcity rents” (p. 346).

An unrivalled champion of arguments against “intellectual property”, the author believes IP to be nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by talentless corporations to continue making profit at the expensive of true creators and scientists (p. 114–129). The view has significant merit.

“The worst nightmare of the corporate dinosaurs”, Carson writes of old-fashioned mass-production-based and propertied industries, is that “the imagination might take a walk” (p. 311). Skilled creators could find the courage to declare independence from big brands. If not now, in the near future, technology will be advanced and available enough that the creators and scientists don’t need to work as helpers for super-rich corporate executives. Nor will the future see such men and women kept at dystopian, centralized factories.

Pointing to the crises of overproduction and waste, together with seemingly inevitable technological unemployment, Carson believes corporate capitalism is at death’s door. Due to “terminal crisis”, not only are other worlds possible but “this world, increasingly, is becoming impossible” (p. 82). Corporations, the author persuades us, only survive because they live off the subsidies of the government. But “as the system approaches its limits of sustainability”, “libertarian and decentralist technologies and organizational forms” are destined to “break out of their state capitalist integument and become the building blocks of a fundamentally different society” (p. 111–112).

Giant corporations are no longer some kind of necessary evil needed to ensure wide-scale manufacture and distribution of goods in our globalized world. Increasingly, they are only latching on to the talents of individuals to extract rents. They may even be neutering technological modernity and the raising of living standards, to extract as much profit as possible by allowing only slow improvements.

And why should corporations milk anyone, if those creators are equipped and talented enough to work for themselves?

The notion of creators declaring independence is not solely a question of things to come. While Kevin Carson links the works of Karl Hess, Jane Jacobs and others (p. 192–194) to imagine alternative friendly, localized community industries of a high-tech nature that will decrease the waste and dependency bred by highly centralized production and trade, he also points to recent technologies and their social impact.

“Computers have promised to be a decentralizing force on the same scale as electrical power a century earlier” (p. 197), the author asserts, referring to theories of the growth of electricity as a utility and its economic potential. From the subsequent growth of the internet, blogging is replacing centralized and costly news networks and publications to be the source of everyone’s information (p. 199). The decentralization brought by computers has meant “the minimum capital outlay for entering most of the entertainment and information industry has fallen to a few thousand dollars at most, and the marginal cost of reproduction is zero” (p. 199).

The vision made possible by books like Kevin Carson’s might be that one day, not only information products but physical products – everything – will be free. The phrase “knowledge is free”, a slogan of Anonymous hackers and their sympathizers, is true in two senses. Not only does “information want to be free”, the origin of the phrase explained by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants (2010), but one can acquire knowledge at zero cost.

If the “transferrability” of individual creativity and peer production “to the realm of physical production” from the “immaterial realm” is a valid observation (p. 204–227), then the economic singularity means one thing clear. “Knowledge is free” shall become “everything is free”.

“Newly emerging forms of manufacturing”, the author indicated, “require far less capital to undertake production. The desktop revolution has reduced the capital outlays required for music, publishing and software by two orders of magnitude; and the newest open-source designs for computerized machine tools are being produced by hardware hackers for a few hundred dollars” (p. 84).

Open source hardware is of course also central to the advocacy in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, especially as it relates to poorer peripheries of the world-economy. It is through open source hardware libraries of the kind advocated by Vinay Gupta that plans for alternative manufacture as the starting point in an alternative economy for the good of all become feasible.

As I argued in my 2013 Catalyst booklet, not only informational goods will face the scandals of being “leaked” or “pirated” in future. The right generation of 3D printers, robots, atomically-precise manufacturing devices, biotechnology-derived medicines and petrochemicals will all move “at the speed of light” as the father of synthetic biology J. Craig Venter predicted of his own synbio work.

The fuel of an economic singularity, those above creations should be of primary interest in the formation of an alternative economy. They would not only have zero cost and zero waiting times, but they would require zero effort. Simply shared, they must be allowed to raise the living standards of humanity and allow poor countries to leapfrog several stages of development, breaking free of the bonds of exploitation.

One area to be criticized in the book could be a portion in which it reflects negatively on the very creation of railways or other state-imposed infrastructure and standards as a wrong turn in history, because these created an artificial niche for corporations to thrive (p. 5–23). It seems to undermine the book’s remaining thesis that the right turn in history consists of “libertarian and decentralist technologies and organizational forms”. “Network” technologies and organizational forms only exist due to that wave of prior mass production and imposed infrastructure the author claimed to be unnecessary. Without the satellites and thousands of kilometers of cable made in factories and installed by states, any type of “network” organizational form would be a weak proposition and the internet would never have existed.

Arguably, now the standards are set, future technological endeavors that connect and bridge society won’t need new standards imposed from above or vast physical infrastructure subsidized by states. The formation of effective networks itself now produces new mechanisms for devising and imposing standards, ensuring interconnectivity and high living standards should continue to flourish under the type of alternative economy advocated in Carson’s book.

Abolish artificial scarcity, intellectual property, mandatory high overhead and other measures used by states to enforce the privileges of monopoly capitalism, the author tells us (p. 168–170). This way, a more humane world-economy can be engineered, oriented to benefit people and local communities foremost. Everyone in the world may get to work fewer hours while enjoying an improved quality of life, and we can prevent a bleak future in which millions of people are sacrificed to technological unemployment on the altar of profit.


“HoloLens … is not just a headset. It’s also an API – called Windows Holographic — built by Microsoft to let developers code programs from the HoloLens itself. The company’s announcement that it’s opening Windows Holographic to partners means that they, too, will be able to build devices for its API platform. Anything that’s developed using that API should work as well on partner devices as on the HoloLens itself.”

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“A little over a year ago, Apple had a problem: The iPad Pro was behind schedule. Elements of the hardware, software, and accompanying stylus weren’t going to be ready for a release in the spring. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and his top lieutenants had to delay the unveiling until the fall. That gave most of Apple’s engineers more time. It gave a little-known executive named Johny Srouji much less.”

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““Your quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all.” So says Galadrial to the fellowship sent to destroy the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. But that advice might as well be directed to the burgeoning virtual reality industry. Early optimism that the second coming of VR, after a false start in the 1990s, will blossom into a new mainstream medium could collapse into despair, with the technology joining 3D television as another misfire.”

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