What is Helium Roaming?

“Roaming” is one of those dirty words that appeared in its modern form at some point in the mid-2000s. Though many consumers would struggle to give a coherent definition, cell phone roaming is a subject that most instinctively run away from. Mobile billing was a minefield even before 2007’s 300-page iPhone bill. Many people, myself included, can vividly remember the sheer horror that accompanied checking a bill that was hundreds or even more than a thousand dollars in excess of a typical monthly charge. Almost always, these incidents were due to a combination of international roaming and inflated data charges.

So, what is “roaming” in the context of mobile networks?

In the case of a cell phone, your wireless plan likely specifies a coverage area, such as within your home country. National borders bound most telecom and utility networks. When you travel to another country without making any changes to your subscription plan, you may be able to select from multiple providers or even an international affiliate of your current provider to continue your coverage. Your device will still work, often seamlessly, but you likely will be assessed an additional charge. This is known as the “roaming” charge. These charges are split between your actual carrier and the one that you are roaming in the coverage area of, so they are often extremely high compared to domestic rates.

When you leave your primary coverage area, you are roaming. This is still a contentious topic around the world as more people gain access to cell phones and travel more frequently. Though most US-carriers have launched fixed-rate international plans with ubiquitous coverage in nearly all countries, wireless roaming has a complicated history, with many countries still lacking basic protections against unexpected charges.

What does this have to do with the Helium network?

As many of us currently perceive it, roaming is bad as it increases the cost of using a wireless device. But the framework provided by mobile roaming makes a lot of sense. Availability of service is paramount. As there are different IoT mesh networks springing up, there are benefits to these networks being linked together.

When you turn on your cell phone, you ultimately don’t care what carrier’s infrastructure you are dealing with. You just want a strong connection. Imagine if the wireless coverage market in North America wasn’t such a hellscape, and your coverage could be improved by multiple carriers’ coverage linked. In a profit-driven world, that doesn’t always work. With Tthe People’s Network, roaming can benefit networks, infrastructure providers, and end-users without disadvantaging anyone!

When Did Helium Roaming Start?

Roaming arrangements can require cooperation between companies. Helium refers to these providers as “LoRaWAN® Network Server providers (LNSes.)” It’s likely that the Helium team waited until the network was somewhat mature before seeking out these major opportunities. It’s also possible that these arrangements were agreed upon many months ago and that Helium waited to hit certain milestones and further prove or release technology before announcing them. The first roaming partnership with Senet was announced on September 21st. It was quickly followed by a similar arrangement with Actility four weeks later.

How Does Helium Roaming Work?

Roaming partnerships can be enacted by contacting sales@helium.com. For a device already connected to a partner network, the roaming experience should be seamless. What happens behind the scenes is that the networks are linked via a Helium Roaming Server. The data flows freely to the client, and the payment methods/tokens are exchanged between LNSes at a prearranged rate ( partially inferred from the documentation).

This roaming has been called “passive roaming.” In the earlier example, a cell phone in the US using AT&T will never use Verizon. In this passive roaming scheme, a device can seamlessly switch between networks depending on where coverage is the best without requiring software or firmware changes.

Does Roaming Benefit Hotspot Hosts?

As time goes on, a lower percentage of earnings will come from Helium’s Proof of Coverage (PoC) reward algorithm. Eventually, the majority of earnings will come from data transferred through hotspots. The Helium network allowing roaming means that a larger group of devices that were likely previously using other networks will now also be able to make use of the Helium Network.

The premise of additional roaming partners means more data will be transferred through the Helium network. This will be a clear benefit to hotspot hosts.

Who Are The Roaming Partners?

Currently, there are two roaming partners: Senet and Actility.

Senet is an IoT network based in the United States which currently processes millions of transactions per day. The company’s products span different industries and use cases.

Actility is known for providing the LoRaWAN IoT peering hub. It boasts many corporate client partners, including Volvo and Cisco.

So, is Roaming Still Something to be Feared?

Helium is rapidly changing the way we view networking and network coverage. With the team’s implementation of roaming and onboarding of major partners, it’s safe to say that roaming is no longer a bad thing. Roaming will make network coverage significantly larger and will help drive adoption well into the future. It is the next stage of expanding The People’s Network area of services.