Helium is an open network, decentralized, there is a wide range of option you can do as a user, like creating your own private router to have your devices encrypted end-to-end. You can also make your LoRaWan traffic to be routed from Helium network to your own network when you are a LoRaWan network provider. Let’s take the exemple of a Telco with a LoRaWan network, let’s name it B’telco and imagine B’telco have an existing network in France. Imagine they want to extends their coverage worldwide, eventually reduce their local cost by removing some redundancy in the cities. In a such case, they can roam traffic over helium.
This means that the data of B’telco devices will be acquired by helium router, exactly as a Helium data, and then it will be routed to B’telco network server transparently. That way, the customer will have a better coverage and the B’telco cost for this worldwide extension will be really low.
In this blog post, I’ll explain how this roaming feature works and what is needed to deploy it.
Until now, all the Helium data-only hotspot I have been tested where DiY devices. They are not really complicated to manage but they are not ready-to-go, so you need to manually on-role them with a wallet and some complex CLI operation for the non-experts. This SenseCAP M2 is the first one I’m testing, ready-to-go or close to be ready-to-go (that does not means it is the only one existing).
As it is a Data-Only hotspot, it means it does not participate to the Proof of Coverage, as a consequence, there is no related rewards for this device. This device only earn the DC (Data Credit) for transferring the communications, so $1 for 100.000 packets. Before getting question, this have no return on invest in a crypto point of view. This has been made to help supporting professional applications on the Helium network.
After reviewing different Helium miner like RAK, Sensecap, Kerlink, Nebra… now comes the Cotx-X3 miner. This miner has a long story and a bad reputation, due to something not really clean the maker did with the first units.
This is not related to the hardware quality and I’ve been happy to buy some of them for reviewing it. This miner is a full miner, based on a standard design using a Raspberry Pi 4. It has the particularity of having a front screen and an audio jack ! Don’t laughs, the reason is simple, this device has a different usage before becoming an helium miner.
In a previous blog post about 18 month ago, I designed my first Low Cost LoRaWAN Solar Gateway. This year, I did some updates to create a new version to support Helium Data-Only Hotspot (basically it works for any LoRaWAN networks like TheThingsNetwork).
In this version, I’m using a RAK wisegate Lite gateway, it is a bit more power consuming than the TTIG but can work on any LoRaWAN network. I’ve also changed the outdoor enclosure to get a larger and single battery.
You will also see that I’ve been updated the monitoring dashboard to get something better and free of charge. Two of them are in production. One is already deployed as an upgrade of the 1st one and the second one is in the testing phase. The First version has been on the field for more than a year. It has been offline about 10 days during that year, due to the weather conditions. This is a service level of 98,29% from its start until now. With the larger battery I’m expecting to resolve some of the small service interruption I’ve issued during last winter.
Kerlink is a LoRaWan hardware player since the first ages of this technology. This French company has equipped most of the operator’s network and is used to propose high quality industrial products.
The iFemToCell is not a new product. It exists since a couple of years and I already tested the IFemToCell 4 years ago. Recently the company has created a Helium edition we are going to review in this blog post.
This is an interesting device as it is a kind of hybrid between a light miner and a full miner. Even if the Kerlink platform is powerful, it is far away the power of a raspberry Pi and certain operations like consensus group can’t be performed. As this is now delegated to Validator, this difference have no impact on rewards. In another hand, this device is consuming less power and it is possible to power it with sun more easily. This is quite interesting.
Let see what is this device and what is specific during its deployment.
Migrating existing LoRaWAN network to Helium or joining Helium for new deployment is accessing to the world largest LoRaWAN network and enable your devices to be deployed in the large covered zone. By doing this you extends the community network and as a counter part getting benefit on future data transfer and immediately get an access to the low cost ecosystem (data transfer, network server, high redundancy network…)
In a previous post I explained how to configure a RAK Wisgate as a Helium Data-Only hotspot. In a such situation your LoRaWAN gateway becomes a hotspot relaying the Helium traffic and getting some little rewards for the data transfer. The more important is to extend the coverage. This way of doing is good but I’ve got some issues on the field: The data transfer from the hotspot to the blockchain (even if just the state channels) is high and the software, currently in alpha, is not totally stable. When deploying a gateway is isolated area to provide new coverage, honestly, these two issues are blocking points.
The second important consideration is the existing gateways, already deployed on the field: they are currently used for private networks. They have been deployed some years ago and are not in the compatibility list of Helium hardware. Even if they are, deploying a new software on them, remotely can be a problem.
For these different reasons, I’ve been investigating a different approach by creating centrally hosted hotspots connected to different LoRaWAN gateways through the legacy Semtech protocol. This is what we are going to detail on this blog-post.
It’s time to extend the Helium network out of the city centers ! Now as most of the Helium Pioneers have stacked a lot of HNT, it is time to reinvest a part of it to grow the attractivity of the network and improve the future value of the token as a consequence. At least it is my point of view on what every Helium participant should start doing. Each hostpot revenue is currently sufficiently high to participate to network extension with Data-Only equipment.
Data Only Hotspot are LongFi (LoRaWan) gateways not doing mining, they are just relaying data and, as a consequence, only earn token for packet transfer. If the network use becomes high, this could be an interesting revenue.
Data Only Hotspot target 2 different use-cases:
Low density area, they are the zone where you don’t have a big chance to have many other hotspot around and full hotspot price won’t make it interesting regarding the low chance to get PoC reward. Basically, they are good to deploy in the countryside, mountains … to extend coverage but not expecting high revenue. This is important to do to enable used-cases based on a large coverage for the network.
Professional networks. This is the main, short term, interest of Helium Data Only Hotspot. Service providers using LoRaWan are mostly relying on private networks with owned equipment’s. These equipment can be migrated or deployed on the Helium network with Data-Only Hotspot without risk of market shortage, larger reliability and lower cost and lower bandwidth and power consumption than full miners. Service providers get different advantages for doing this: get benefit of the existing Helium coverage worldwide (as primary solution or as a redundancy) and get some income for transferring other LoRaWan communication.
For my first experimentation with Helium Data Only Hotspot, I made the choice of RAK Wisgate Edge Prime because this device is reasonable price for high end experience. It is outdoor, with LTE, supporting PoE under $400. This is really fitting well with the second use-case : professional deployment I noticed above. I will later review the Dragino lower cost gateway for addressing the first use-case.
Sensecap is one of the Helium miner official hardware. This one has been made in collaboration with Seeed a big hardware maker and provider.
The production and distribution has started on July 2021 and that solution is really promising to help solving the shortage issues currently seen in the Helium market. As a reminder, Helium growth has been from 15.000 hotspots to 100,000 hotspot in less than 8 months. In a period of global shortage in semi-conductor market it is quite challenging for the hardware provider and the current estimates are about 200,000 – 400,000 back orders.
Sensecap coming batch of 10,000 and more units are really welcome, with the promise of selling produced only devices instead of pre-orders. It sounds like a good choice now days.
So let’s review the technical part of the Sensecap miner.
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