A new phone data network — accompanied by the quiinfecta of a websitemiddle post, white paper, dedicated subreddit and Discord channel – launched quietly late Tuesday night in San Francisco, promising a new way to exchange data anonymously and at high speed without relying on traditional operators, and at a cheaper price. The open-source peer-to-peer wireless network called Pollen Mobile will entice its users with cryptocurrency to run their own mini cell towers and expand network coverage in the Bay Area where the service is initially launching.

Anthony Levandowski’s self-driving vehicle tech startup Pronto AI launch the project. Levandowski, a polarizing early pioneer in the autonomous vehicle industry, was pardoned last year by former President Donald Trump after being sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets.

Why Is an Autonomous Vehicle Startup Creating Decentralized Telecom Encouraged by Cryptocurrency? The catalyst for Pollen Mobile stems from Pronto’s need for reliable and affordable mobile connectivity for its autonomous vehicles, Levandowski, who is still CEO of Pronto, told TechCrunch in a text message conversation. Pronto has been using Pollen internally for its AVs for months.

“The reason is simple, we needed reliable and affordable mobile connectivity for our AVs and we couldn’t find it,” he wrote. “So we built our own and realized it might be something other people want.” He later added, “Necessity is the mother of invention.

The Pollen Mobile distributed network, which plans to begin its initial launch in the next few days, relies on a network of data transmitters that it somewhat oddly calls flowers, bumblebees and hummingbirds – code for radio towers, devices connectivity validation and mobile phones.

A 2020 FCC rule change allowed the company to build its own cell towers and create mobile mini-networks for sites where its self-driving vehicles operate, according to its post on Medium.

“We had to think about all the other things that people don’t like about existing mobile phone companies. We saw an opportunity to build something truly revolutionary – something that tackles what we consider to be the ‘four horsemen’ of mobile networks,” states the Medium blog. These “four horsemen” are lack of privacy and anonymity, poor coverage, high costs, and no user voice.

Small cell towers called “flowers,” which range from the size of a pizza box to up to six feet tall, provide coverage from a few city blocks to a mile. These flowers are installed by “flower owners” in their homes or offices and connect to the internet and provide coverage for other Pollen users. Flower operators earn PollenCoin (PCN) from the user community based on coverage area, quality of service and amount of data transmitted, according to information posted by the company on its channel. Discord.

Operators pay the initial cost of the physical data transmitter hardware; the cheapest (and smallest) flower costs $999 while the largest and most powerful emitter costs over $10,000. Justifying the high upfront cost means operators are taking a leap of faith that the network will succeed and the value of PCN’s fixed offering will increase.

Picture credits: Screenshot/Mobile Pollen

One of the many open questions for the fledgling company is how or if ISPs will respond – the distributed network will piggyback on the flower operators’ home internet and funnel peer-to-peer data through those networks.

The network currently has more than a dozen radio towers operating in the Bay Area, according to the company’s network tracker.

Pollen Mobile will ship smaller devices called “bumblebees” that collect data on the strength of network coverage. These devices, which validate “flower” coverage, are also the property of users and can be placed in their car, drone or bicycle. Bumblebee owners also earn PCNs based on the number of unique coverage validations provided each day.

Finally, there are the “hummingbirds”, which are the mobile devices that use the Pollen network. Phones will require an eSIM download to connect to the network, and other devices like laptops can connect through a special adapter (called “Wings”), the company said. Users pay for connectivity using PCN.

Eventually, building a network of users willing to pay for a data network in its early stages will depend on selling the vision of a more anonymous mobile network that does not sell or log customer data. The data-only network also won’t allow phone calls or SMS messages, and users paying for the service won’t get a phone number.

Until now, Pollen was operated internally by Pronto as a subsidiary. Levandowski said it would be entrusted to a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, or eDAO, and run independently from there. The organization will ultimately govern the evolution of the network and dictate how and where users are incentivized to expand their coverage.

“We don’t control where the flowers go,” Levandowksi told TechCrunch. “We designed the network so that the community and market forces determine where the rewards go.”