There’s a new layer to the internet being a mesh network that has been specifically created for a class of IoT (Internet of Things) devices that are low powered and transmit their data over radio waves within a slim radio frequency that is unpopulated by the myriad of other polluted bands.
The IoT devices that utilize the LoraWAN (Longfi) network are such things as:
Air quality sensors for environmental factors, not only for localized temperatures but for pollutants and toxins
Water sensors to warn of rising water levels/flooding or leakage/low levels
Location sensors like in a vehicle or on a dog/cat collar
Tracking sensors to track consignments on delivery vehicles
Heat sensors to warn of a failure within cooling or heating systems
Industrial sensors for production and machinery
Agriculture for soil quality and tracking livestock
Security sensors for intrusion detection, automated alarms and alerts
The list goes on and on…
Often these sensors are battery operated and designed to run for years remotely, this is made possible by the data connections that are possible over radio waves as it is often not possible to connect to regular WIFI due to its fairly short-range coupled with remote locations and cellular data is expensive with bulky hardware that has a fairly high power drain on such small devices.
The data for the IoT devices is transmitted with a ‘hotspot’ that is connected to the internet and an antenna that should ideally be mounted outside, as high as you can get it (safely) as radio waves travel through a line of sight and can be blocked by buildings, trees and other structures.
Other factors like the topography of the land where a hotspot is physically located can affect the line of sight and so other hotspots known as ‘witnesses’ cannot be contacted, but data can still be transmitted to IoT devices within range that may require it.
The Helium network incentivizes hotspot owners with mining rewards in the form of HNT tokens for supporting the Helium network that involves sharing their internet with data packets as well as the setup cost of the hardware involved.
The hotspots location is important as a series of hexagons (six-sided shapes) cover the whole world getting smaller with a hotspots setup area being a 300-metre ‘hex’, the idea is to have a hotspot every 300 metres, these hexagons are setups as resolutions, more info can be found on https://docs.helium.com/wallets/app-wallet/hexagons/
If there is more than one hotspot in a 300 metres (res 12) area, then earnings with the mining are affected due to ‘reward scaling’ so the idea is to only have one hotspot per hex.
The hotspots earn HNT tokens by mining four main ways:
Witnessing other hotspots thereby validating PoC (Proof of Coverage)
Creating challenges to other hotspots
Witnessing challenges to other hotspots
Data to the IoT devices
There are different rewards with each of the scales, reward can vary wildly depending upon your location, not only with the number of hotspots closeby (or far to you) but also with a physical line of sight, if your antenna is located in a dip or valley the radio signal will find it hard to escape this space if your (antenna) is located high, the radio signal will travel much further.
Unfortunately, many bad actors have taken advantage of PoC (Proof of Coverage) by spoofing their miners location/s, setting up one or many close to other legitimate miners (Hex), they then provide fake coverage to each other and gain rewards with the ‘located’ miners in a single room away from the actual asserted locations, all talking to each other, this affects the network greatly by not only disregarding and disrupting the service network with the IoT devices that depend upon it but also by stealing others legitimate users rewards with fake rewards and therefore overall dilution.
It is not only single bad actors taking advantage but manufacturers have been in on the act with COTX being removed from the Helium network by not allowing future onboarding of their miners, this may change in the future but some will lose out such as unsuspecting purchasers of the devices on third party selling websites like eBay – only finding out after the packaging has been removed with the miner simply not being able to get onto the Helium network with the onboarding process.
The HIP (Helium improvement proposal) has made inroads to rectifying this problem by weeding out the bad actors but spoofing is still possible and taking place on the Helium network for now (October 2021).
Setup of the miner
We have used the Bobcat 300 miner for the following examples, there are other manufacturers of Helium miners available.
The process of setting up the miner is pretty simple, just be sure to be ready to wait for the blockchain to sync locally to the miner, this can take a long time but a fast sync option has been integrated with checkpoints, a bit like just downloading the header information for older BTC transactions but should be used with caution as potential bugs can show themselves when synching this way.
Unboxing and the stock antenna
Out of the box, the unit comes with a power supply and small antenna that is seemingly pretty good for its size being a 4Dbi model that is short and stout as well as being weatherproof, the cable is pretty short so an extendable cable (of high quality) should be used if you cannot locate the device easily, one other option would be to locate the device when the antenna can be placed easily with a long network cable to your router.
The best low loss antenna high-quality cable is of the type LMR-400, there are other cheaper types available but DB quality and transmitting power will be lost with these other lower-quality cables – make sure to use as short a cable length as is possible to further reduce power and signal loss. If you are on a tight budget source LMR-200 cable.
There are many types of antennas available should you wish to upgrade your stock model, cheapest is not always best with these and it is worth paying the extra for not only performance but also longevity of the item with some cheap antennas not being reaching the advertised performance.
In the EU the 868Mhz band is used, the US uses 915Mhz so be sure to source the correct frequency standard hardware.
The stock antennas that come with most devices if included are perfectly useable in themselves with the main restriction of them having to be located inside due to the short cable that is included – you can buy a high-quality extension cable to locate the stock antenna outside but it is worth considering at the time to upgrade the antenna while you’re at it.
Radio Decibel (DBi)
Radio waves act in different ways with their DBi values, the higher the Dbi; a longer range will be possible but the radio signal will be stretched out, think of it like how a rubber band acts when you stretch it apart from how the width thins overall.
A higher DBi antenna has a higher gain but it will have less of a broader field pattern which means it will be of a narrower band outward and you can miss target hotspots.
- If your hotspot is located in an urban area for local hotspots, go for a good quality 4 DBi model
- If your hotspot is located in a rural area that requires a far reach, go for a 9 – 12 DBi model
- Anything in the middle, go for a 6 – 9 DBi model
When purchasing an antenna, check the SWR data value on the technical/product specifications, the lower this value the more focused every milliwatt of power will be.
Make sure the antenna and cables connections can marry successfully, most antenna utilises an N-female connector with the miners connection being an RP-SMA male – it is advisable to purchase an RP-SMA male to RP-SMA female short extension cable to connect to the main antenna cable, the reason for this is to make connections easier as a big and not very bendy LMR-400 cable can easily damage the little and delicate miners connection.
Make sure to NEVER power the unit on with the antenna disconnected, this can fry your miners electronics due to the output radio signal power being bounced back into the unit!!
Once you have the power supply, antenna cable and network cable connected, it is time to turn the device on
While the miner completes its initial startup it will connect to the internet then starts synchronizing with the Helium blockchain, it may also download some firmware updates for the device, while all this occurs, download the Helium app for your mobile flat-panel device from the App or Play stores.
If it is the first time using the Helium app you must first set up a wallet, be sure to back up the private keys, don’t just save them on the device and never email/message yourself with them, either save them on a USB device or even print them out. If you lose access to the app or lose the mobile device you have the app installed on and have not backed up the private key successfully, you will lose all your HNT coin and there will be no possibility to ever recover it.
Once you have set up the wallet, now you can go on to setting up the miners location (assertion) and antenna height as well as linking it to your wallet.
Manufacturer dependent, the Helium miners will have a small button (for pairing) that needs depressing for a few seconds to open the device via Bluetooth and complete the setup on the device the Helium app is installed upon, the app will ask you for some details step by step as part of the onboarding process.
There is a fee for bringing a miner to the Helium network and blockchain in the form of data credits, this is included with a new device, if you need to move the device to a different location or change the antenna type/height after, it will cost you around $10 in HNT, payable from the app’s wallet.
Now you just have to wait for the miner to fully synchronize to the Helium network, once this has completed the miner will start to communicate on the network, sending beacons to other hotspots, witnessing other hotspot miner beacons, creating challenges and most importantly with sending and receiving data to external IoT devices, for all this activity you will be rewarded in HNT (Helium) token, the better your setup and location (including other hotspots located nearby) the higher this may be – any rewards are paid to the Helium app’s wallet.
Make sure you open TCP port 44158 in both directions and tie the miner to a port on your network for successful port forwarding otherwise your miner will be in a ‘relayed’ state meaning that it will have to receive and transmit data over radio waves rather than the internet.
Depending upon the manufacturer’s hotspot device, there are differing feedback panels for the blockheight reached locally, port status, speed of the net connection and so on – pretty much these devices, once set up and running through the blockchain and Helium app, are really set and forget devices, this coupled with the good returns mining as such, as well as being a very useful procedural operation.
Around 6 – 14 days after the miner has synced to the blockchain, you will start to see the rewards stabilise and will then have an opportunity to improve your system, perhaps moving the antenna to a better, higher location, upgrading the network or antenna cable, simple and modular little improvements can yield good returns.
Good luck and of course leave a comment if you require some assistance but as with most potential time/money investments: Research, research, RESEARCH 🙂
Helium website: https://www.helium.com
Helium explorer: https://explorer.helium.com
Helium official Discord: https://discord.gg/helium
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