Over the next few years, we’ll see a torrent of new devices emerge that are connected to the Internet and each other through a wide range of different wireless networking protocols. As a result, there’s a race on, not just to get those devices connected, but also to provide the network infrastructure necessary to managing all of them at scale.
A startup called Helium Systems, which has been quietly operating in stealth over the last two years, is looking to provide the connective tissue between all those devices, all without relying on WiFi, Bluetooth, or cellular networks. The company hopes to do that by combining low-powered wireless connectivity and a smart distribution network for data coming from those devices.
While it’s still working out the products and business model that will enable that connectivity, the company is announcing today that it has raised $16 million in funding led by Khosla Ventures, with participation from FirstMark Capital, Digital Garage, Marc Benioff, SV Angel, and Slow Ventures among others.
In addition to the funding, Helium has named former Qualcomm exec Rob Chandhok its president and COO. He’ll also join the company’s board, along with Chairman Shawn Fanning, Helium co-founder Amir Haleem, and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. (While Khosla Ventures hasn’t named a board member yet, we’re told Vinod Khosla has been very active in helping the company to date.)
Prior to joining Helium, Chandhok had served as the president of Qualcomm Interactive Platforms and senior vice president at Qualcomm Technologies. There he led the company’s strategic software initiatives in open source, Internet of Things, and wearables verticals. As a result, he has experience in large-scale wireless systems, which should help Helium as it seeks to refine its products and go to market.
Chandhok is a new hire — he started at the company on Monday — but the company has already assembled a 20-person team of experts in radio frequency technology and distributed networks.
That’s because the big idea behind Helium is to use unlicensed wireless bandwidth to transmit small amounts of data from various connected device and being able to distribute it to applications that rely on it. To do that, the company is developing its own wireless data protocol and wireless modules that can be inserted into devices that manufacturers want to be a part of its network.
The belief is that since the devices in question would be delivering bytes of data rather than megabytes, it could create its own connection to them in a cost effective manner without relying on existing cellular or WiFi networks.
By leveraging low-power wireless bands and building a highly distributed network of ultra-affordable base stations (or Helium bridges), it could receive and transmit small amounts of data from those devices seamlessly.
While Helium hopes to build out its own network for devices to connect to, it’s not ruling out letting devices add data through other networking solutions. After all, as Chandhok told me, the more devices there are that connect into its network, the more powerful it will be.