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Pollen Versus Helium — What’s the Difference?

Kyle Reyes
November 11, 2022

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Pollen and Helium are generating a fair amount of interest in tech circles, and this article will cover everything you need to know about these companies, what they do, and how they plan on doing it. Both of these networks are Decentralized Wireless (DeWi) and operate through the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). Both of these companies are trying to do the same thing with similar business models, but they have their fair share of differences in the execution of their networks. 

A Quick Introduction to Decentralized Wireless

DeWi networks are ones where their consumers purchase small cell radio nodes that proliferate the network. For example, Pollen sells network antennas (called Flowers) that users install in their homes and, in essence, create some network coverage. Multiply that by several million and there is a 5G network over a wide swath of the United States. The part of this that is a DeWi network is the fact that they sell their antenna to the customers. Traditional wireless networks, like Verizon and AT&T, are centralized networks in that all of their cell towers are owned by the company. What are the benefits of a DeWi network? We will get to that in the body of the article! 

Interested in learning more about the DeWi networks Pollen and Helium as well as the differences between them? Information about that and more awaits in the body of this article. Read on!

Operating a 5G Network

Operating any kind of network is a tremendous logistical feat. 5G networks require a lot of infrastructure before they can confidently replace the current 4G LTE networks. 

5G networks are the fifth major generation of mobile communications networks. It functions the same way as other wireless communication systems in that it uses radio frequencies to carry information through the air. There are a lot of frequencies of radio waves, and 5G operates on higher frequencies, in millimeter waves (mmwaves). Prior to 5G, they were not used in any context as the equipment required to reach that frequency is complicated and expensive. Higher-frequency bands travel faster but have trouble penetrating physical objects like trees and buildings. 

The plan to unroll 5G is to create a lot of sites from which to bounce the information. Multiple antennae boost signals in any wireless network (think of all the telephone towers in the United States) and this is exactly what companies like Pollen and Helium are attempting to create with their consumer network. 

The general plan for 5G is to create a ton of small access points, contrasting with the 4G LTE big cell towers that often come to mind. 

What Makes 5G Better than 4G?

The major benefit of 5G is speed. It is crazy fast. Yes, it is more expensive and requires a significant change in infrastructure, but it operates at breathtaking speeds. It also seriously reduces latency within the network, allowing for faster responses and download speeds on every device within the network. Because it allows for so much more data to get transferred back and forth it opens up new applications that 4G LTE networks were simply unable to support. 

There is some serious sci-fi technology that is theoretically possible on a 5G network. Some of the most exciting ones are smart factories (an industrial facility that is entirely autonomous) holographic technology (like in Star Wars) and autonomous vehicles that communicate with every other vehicle in the vicinity. The reduction in latency allows for 5G devices to respond faster when information arrives. For instance, a 3G network generally operates with 65 ms of latency. 4G LTE is around 40 ms of latency. Fixed broadband is between 10 and 20 ms. 5G networks are expected to operate with as little as 1 ms of latency. That’s right. 

5G is Fast. Really Fast

It is still in the theoretical stage, but on a strong network with consistent signals, 5G devices should reach speeds of 10 gigabits per second. That is 30 times faster than strong 4G LTE speeds. 5G networks promise lightning speeds. It is those ludicrous speeds that allow for so many intricate tasks to be accomplished. It is, however, a lot faster than anything we use right now. Individual consumers are unlikely to draw anywhere near that level of bandwidth, but 5G is about more than right now. 

5G is About the Future

The reason that consumers don’t need 5G in their homes or phones right now is that all of our mobile devices are optimized to run with 4G LTE speeds. It would be foolish for a company to create a streaming platform or mobile game that demanded speeds faster than the network could handle. 

5G is, also, not going to arrive in the near future. While companies like Pollen and Helium are looking to speed up that process, the fact remains that 5G tech is expensive and has to get implemented over the technology that already exists. It could be decades before 5G completely overtakes our current 4G LTE network. Plans are in motion, of course, but the implementation of next-generation networks takes a lot of time and money. 

Pollen Versus Helium

Pollen is one big extended metaphor relating their users to bees and their network to flowers. In terms of Pollen versus Helium, Pollen wins the name game!

That section was all about 5G because both Pollen and Helium will roll out 5G networks when they are up and running. With that information in mind, let’s get into the meat of this article. Pollen versus Helium. Let’s start with what these companies do. 

DeWi Networks and Traditional Communications

Traditional communications networks are built upon a huge network of access points that allows information to fly through the air on radio waves, traveling from destination to destination almost instantaneously. Wireless companies like AT&T and T-Mobile have thousands of cell towers and antennae that dot the landscape, allowing them to cover the map with a strong 4G LTE connection. These companies are taking a foray into 5G, but are running into problems with the way that 5G’s signal is less robust and more likely to suffer issues when going over long distances. The current infrastructure is optimized for 4G LTE coverage and it will take a very long time before 5G is a viable switch for these big companies. 

Enter DeWi networks. They are a bold and completely different business model that puts the network on the shoulder of its operators. One immediate benefit from a network like this is that the cost of data is usually much cheaper, but they are not without their host of problems. Let’s get into Helium versus Pollen and what they bring to the table. 

Pollen — How it Works

Pollen is a company that sells its network antennae to its customers. They are called flowers, and they do a pair of things. Both Pollen and Helium are based on crypto, so the purchase and use of their data are done with cryptocurrency. Pollen operates with one currency called PCNs (PollenCoins) and network operators receive these coins when their network is used by other people. Pollen wants to incentivize customers to purchase Flowers and expand their network. For a DeWi network to work it needs a huge base of people to purchase the network provider in order to build the network. One huge bonus for networks like these is that it is much more likely that they will exist in rural areas. 

If a few people in a rural town decide to get their Pollen Flowers then the town, in an instant, is covered with a fast 5G network. Pollen incentivizes people to purchase their equipment through their cryptocurrency. In theory, someone who purchases a flower can enjoy their service for free and even make some money as others use their network. There is a third step in this process which is called network validation. Their devices, called Bumblebees, collect data on network location and strength and send it to Pollen HQ. Users are also incentivized to purchase these devices because they are rewarded with PCN for the data they transmit. The best place to keep a Bumblebee is in your car or bike, as the further it travels the more data it can collect. Before we get any further, here’s a list of all the devices currently offered by Pollen (and their cute names!)

  • Buttercup Flower is their heavy-hitting network antennae. 
  • Greenhouse Dandelions are lower-scope network antennas, providing coverage to a small area. 
  • Bumblebees are small devices that validate Pollen’s network coverage. They check signal strength and connection speed and send that data back to Pollen.
  • Honeybees are an eSIM that let you validate the network straight from your phone. They earn you PICs, which we will get to later!
  • The Dandelion Lattice is an accessory to the Greenhouse Dandelion, letting users mount their dandelions to their windows! It is, in essence, a suction cup and case in which to place your dandelion. 
  • Last but not least, the Hummingbird is the software required to access the pollen mobile network! It is available as a physical SIM and eSIM.

Pollen’s network functions with three major points. It starts with the flowers that create the network. The network is validated by the bees which move around, collecting data. Finally, it is used by the hummingbird SIM cards that allow users to connect to the network! The frequency used by Pollen is CBRS, which was recently released to public and private corporations. 


PollenCoins are $.10 a coin. As the network develops that is destined to change, but for now, $.10 is the cost set by Pollen when they rolled out the network. Every user has the ability to earn PollenCoins over the course of the day. Put simply, they are earned when users validate the network or when users connect to a flower. The exact and detailed description of their network is found on Pollen’s mobile whitepaper. Now, this network is not designed for the users to get rich off of their PollenCoins, but users who contribute to the network are expected to get out what they put in over the course of a few years. This is, of course, all subject to change as the company grows. 

Key Takeaways

  • Pollen is a DeWi network that is trying to build itself through its consumers. 
  • Consumers purchase flowers which they use to create 5G access points anywhere in the country. 
  • Pollen uses CBRS to send information on the network
  • Users are able to earn PCNs by validating, using, and creating the network. PCN earnings can then be spent to purchase data from the company. 

Helium — How it Works and How it Differs from Pollen

To begin, one major difference with Helium is that it began with a focus on the “internet of things,” which refers to the network of objects that have become connected to the internet. This is not in reference to, say, your phone or tablet, but rather the ordinary household objects like refrigerators, appliances, thermostats, doorbells, etc. Helium started as a network with a ton of notes in the IoT network, but the network was very very expensive to maintain. 

Helium came before Pollen and was the first company to create and maintain a crypto-based DeWi network. They are now a company with a significant commitment to the IoT as well as a burgeoning 5G network that is maintained the same way as Pollen’s network. Helium’s internal structure is very complicated. When it comes to Helium versus Pollen, Pollen has a clear advantage in its simplicity. Helium, for example, uses a pair of cryptocurrencies to run its central structure. 

Helium uses two tokens. They use HNT tokens and MOBILE tokens, which both, for simplicity's sake, give users one big benefit over Pollen’s users. It gives them a stake in the company. A small one, but a stake nonetheless. Pollen’s users are only able to use their tokens to purchase data and continue their use of the network. With Helium, users are able to redeem it for more facets of the company. There are, unfortunately, few connections between their IoT network and their 5G network at this time, meaning that customers who are heavily invested in their IoT are not incentivized to get into their 5G network, and vice versa. 

Both projects have their positives and negatives, with each one trying to bring in as many active participants as they can in order to organically grow their networks and businesses. One area where Pollen is a clear winner is in its simplicity. Explaining Helium’s network and how they have allocated their cryptocurrency is seriously more challenging than explaining Pollen’s network. If you are interested in the ins and out’s of Helium’s network, you can check out their website! 

Key Takeaways

So, how are you feeling about Pollen versus Helium? Both companies bring something important to the table and they are pioneering DeWi networks. That being said, they come with their own advantages and disadvantages, and switching to a DeWi network from a traditional communications network remains a bold move. That being said, here are a few key takeaways from the discourse surrounding Pollen versus Helium!

  • DeWi networks are working to create a substantial 5G infrastructure that is able to provide excellent coverage nationwide. 
  • For DeWi networks to work they need to incentivize customers to purchase antennae and install them in their homes. 
  • Helium and Pollen are competing with one another to find the best way to incentivize the purchase and installation of their network nodes in order to best deploy their network. They utilize different internal structures of incentives, so there is debate as to which one will function better over the course of the next few years. 
  • The internal differences show that Helium has a much more complicated, multi-token structure that includes both IoT and a 5G network while Pollen is a much more streamlined experience. 
  • Both companies are created off of the goal to reward those who buy in by paying back the money they spent over time. That is, of course, theoretical. It is possible to earn money to pay for equipment and wireless in the time following your purchase, but it is a gamble on the company and the people who use it. 

These are new companies that are paving the way for a new form of wireless — a DeWi network. Buzz comes and goes with companies like this as they work ceaselessly to further their product and make the best network that they possibly can, but only time will tell how these companies do as the years progress. There is a lot of loyalty in wireless networks, especially loyalty to traditional communications. 5G is amazing, but most people do not need that kind of speed in their daily lives, disincentivizing companies to create programs that require a 5G connection to function at their highest potential.

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Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.
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