What is Helium IoT?

Last updated October 21, 2021

Helium is a network that connects IoT devices like dog tags, environmental sensors, bike trackers and more. It consists of gateway devices or hotspots connected to one another over the internet. Data from IoT devices is transmitted to hotspots and then across the Helium network.

Helium IoT
Helium connects everything

To date, there are in excess of 250,000 hotspots all over the world and this number is growing very fast.

What problem does Helium solve?

Prior to Helium, IoT networks were fragmented and you could not easily transfer data from an IoT device to a destination of choice. The only way to do this until now was to connect to a cellular or a global satellite network.

Using these networks can be cost prohibitive, especially when we’re talking about many millions of IoT sensors. The other problem is that cellular IoT devices consume a lot of power and either need new batteries or have to be recharged often. This is a major inconvenience when you want to deploy your sensors out in the world for a long time.

How does Helium solve this problem?

Helium solves this problem of connecting many IoT devices using a wireless technology called LoRa. LoRa stands for Long Range. LoRa is a low power wireless platform that has grown to become a popular wireless platform specifically for IoT.

LoRa is used to periodically transfer only small amounts of data like sensor location or temperature, to local hotspots. This consumes very little battery power. Cellular networks such as 4G by contrast are much more complicated as they were designed for transferring large amounts of data. They are not as efficient with energy consumption. This presents a significant advantage for asset tracking systems built on Helium for instance.

Also LoRa, just like Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum. As a result it is much cheaper than using licensed spectrum for 4G LTE or even older cellular systems like 3G.

Finally LoRa operates at frequencies below 1 GHz so the range over which an IoT device can transmit and be detected by a hotspot is very large relative to a similar device using the cellular network.

A LoRa wireless link provides connectivity between the IoT sensor and the hotspot. How is this data then transferred to another location anywhere in the world for global connectivity?

Helium hotspots are connected to the internet using Wi-Fi or Cable Ethernet connection. So all the IoT data that’s collected is transferred using the internet. In the absence of Wi-Fi or Ethernet, a hotspot can also be connected to a 4G modem.

How does Helium Work?

The Helium IoT network is comprised of hotspots that are used to communicate with sensors and transfer data across the network. Helium hotspots are installed by people all around the world in their homes and offices. As incentive for providing connectivity, Hotspot owners are rewarded with crypto currency.

What is HNT?

HNT stands for Helium Network Token. It is a cryptocurrency. As with other crypto, HNT can be mined. The mining operation for hotspots involves two main tasks – verifying connectivity and transferring IoT sensor data.

How do I mine Helium?

In order to mine Helium you need dedicated hardware called a Helium hotspot. There are many hotspot vendors including Rak, Nebra and others. The hotspot is a wireless access point that is used to communicate with sensors and other hotspots. It is also connected to the internet over Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

Once you get this hardware, you will have to set it up on your property. Often times you can optimize your setup to earn more HNT with an outdoor antenna.

The amount of HNT you earn depends on many factors. Today it mostly depends on

  • how many other hotspots there are in your near vicinity. The fewer, the better for you. Helium incentivizes hotspot placement in areas where there are none, in order to maximize network coverage
  • how many other hotspots you can connect to. The more the better for you.

So in summary you want to be able to connect to other hotspots but you also want them to be spread apart for maximum geographic coverage. In this post we have discussed how to maximize your Helium earnings.

Is Helium the only network of its kind?

No it is not. Amazon this year announced Sidewalk – a shared network that helps Amazon’s IoT devices including Amazon Echo, Ring Security Cams and Tile trackers work better. It is owned and operated by Amazon. The biggest difference is its closed and proprietary nature relative to Helium and the lack of any incentives for people who set up and host the network.

Is mining HNT worth it?

The number of HNT you can mine has already and will continue to decrease with time as the network grows larger. Based on the current growth rate, we will likely cross 400,000 hotspots by the end of 2021. The number of HNT that’s distributed every month is 2,500,000. So if you do the math, that’s about 6 HNT on average per month per miner. Back in March 2021, I was able to mine around 300 HNT per month. So that’s obviously a massive drop in only 9 months.

It is anticipated that moving forward, there will be growth in the use of the network by IoT devices and this is a way to earn HNT. However only time will tell how many devices join the network and what the earnings potential is.

With those numbers it’s really up to you to decide if it makes financial sense for you to mine HNT – we’re not into giving financial advice.

From a technological perspective though, if you want to learn about RF, LoRa, IoT and the network in general, Helium is a great tool to do so and when you optimize your mining rig, you will learn a lot!

Summary

There is no doubt we are heading into a very exciting future for IoT with the growth of Helium. A global IoT network opens up so many possibilities for the connected world. As well, cryptocurrency is a new, exciting and interesting model toward incentivizing the set up, deployment and operation of communication networks.

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