Helium RAK Miner review

Rak Wireless Helium Miner v2

Rak Wireless is one of the Helium miner provider, currently the main one. This miner is based on a Rapsberry PI 4 but we will see that it’s not the only part in the miner as Helium Blockchain is not about computing but radio communications.

So the Rapsberry Pi is not the most important parts of the machine, it’s the LoRa concentrator, a piece of technology capable to listen simultaneously on 8 different radio channels and decode really low level signals around -139dBm, basically 0.00000000000001 mW of signal power…

In this post we will detail the technical details about this miner and the interesting aspects. I will also detail my installation experience, this one is not especially specific to RAK as the installation process is quite similar with all the different miners.

In term of radio, the different miner are equivalent and in term of processing the power of a Raspberry Pi 3 is good enough to run the blockchain. More over in the coming month the addition of the Validator in the block chain will drastically reduce the number of complex operation inside the miner. As a consequence, the performance is not an important criteria. This is to say, currently the tech specifications are not really important in the miner choice and I won’t detail a lot that part.

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LoRa-E5 the Seeed Studio STM32-WL module

STM32-WL is the new ST family supporting LoRa and LoRaWAN in, not a single chip but a single die. I did not yet written on it (busy busy busy) but this technology is really interesting as it resulting on a simplified architecture with less chip in your circuit and at the end a lower power consumption, a lower footprint and a lower cost.

LoRa-E5 from Seeed studio is a module containing a STM32-WL circuit and the associated RF circuitry to simplify design based on such chip. Its public price is $9.9 for the module alone and you can also find different boards using it. This price is in the maker market but a bit high for a such system for mass production. This module contains the stronger STM32WL family chip, chip price is 3.71€ / 1000 on mouser. But the module includes all the circuitry around and facilitate your design.

The module is mainly maker market and comes with software to be immediately used by end-user within an Arduino or equivalent environment. It can also be re-flashed for being used with your own software in it. The cortex M4 in is is stronger than most of the Arduino platform.

Let’s see what this chip is and how to use it.

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Low Cost LoRaWan Field Tester

When deploying a LoRaWan network, we need to verify what is the coverage. Eventually before deploying a Hotspot for Helium network we need to find the best place to reach as much peers as possible. A field tester is a simple, mobile, tool to help you decide the best location and monitor the coverage in a zone.

There are many different existing solutions on the market, I have used some of them in the past like the Adeunis field tester. The problem of the existing device is usually the price and the absence of backend application to report the network seen signal. The solutions are usually around 200 – 400€ and I was looking for making something less expensive for makers and hotspot owners.

Thanks to the Seeed Wio Terminal, a low cost Arduino like terminal with a cool TFT screen and buttons, it makes it a nice platform to make a LoRaWan Field tester with a good UI.

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What is the real cost of Helium communication ?

Helium network is a crowdsourced network using a blockchain. There are multiple transactions related to the Helium devices communication. Usually, we talk about the message transmission transaction corresponding to a flat cost of 1DC ($0,00001). That said there are some questions:

  • what is a message definition ?
  • what are the other blockchain transaction impacting the communication cost ?

In the post we are going to review the answer to these questions and I’ll propose a spreadsheet to modelize these cost with some example to see the different kind of real message cost you should take into account in your business model.

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Make your own private network on top of Helium IoT network

Helium is a multi network server with a decentralized packet routing system. This is really clever and allows anyone to use the public infrastructure as private LoRaWAN compatible network. That way you get benefit of a worldwide coverage and, in the same time, the ability to protect your raw data from anyone looking at them. You can also create some other public network server, as we are doing with Helium-Iot.eu

The objective of a such public service is to offer a shorter route for your European devices and as a consequence a shorter response time for downlink. It also ensure your data to stay in Europe, something important for personal data like tracking, health or for industrial applications.

For a better understanding, let’s take a look at the Helium network architecture:

Helium network architecture

Thanks to the miner components incorporated in the hotspots, the traffic from the devices is directly routed to the right network server. Each of the network servers belongs to a, operator, it can be you or me or any established telecom operator. This is basically really cool !

That’s why we have decided with the company I work for to take a look at this business and launched Helium-IoT.eu. So you can connect your devices to Helium using our console https://console.helium-iot.eu

In the next page of this post I will explain how to become your own operator for making your private network. This is a bit complex operations, so if you want your own network server, as part of our services we are proposing to make it for you and host it. We also have solutions to migrate existing LoRaWan networks to Helium. Just let us know by contacting me with the contact link.

So, let’s be more technical to understand all of this.

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Migration to TTN v3

Announced during TheThingsConference 2021 this January, TheThingsNetwork console is upgrading to v3. In fact it is really more than a simple update because this consist in merging TheThingsNetwork and TheThingsIndustrie in a common environment. This upgrade is really different than a traditional upgrade because it has an impact on any gateways and any devices ; a big impact anyone needs to manage. Here are some of the currently known impacts on the networks and the different components:

  • Traffic from v2 is routed to v3 but v3 is not routed to v2
  • Gateway are not migrated automatically
  • LoRa Application/Integration needs to be re-created in v3 to communicate over v3
  • Device LoRaWan session needs to be refreshed
  • Coverage map are lost
  • Gateways using gRPC protocol (TTN Packet forwarder won’t relay V3 traffic over V2)
  • … some more to be discovered

As the Network is managed by many different people, and not really planned and organized by TheThingsIndustry, we are going to have disconnections and fields operations to make all of this back to life.

It concerns the TTN Initiators (people deploying the network) but also the TTN users because they need to update Applications and restart/rejoin devices once the V2 has disappeared.

The currently know planning for Europe is (Other countries not yet planned)

  • April 2021 – v2 console will be read-only (you won’t be able to add devices / gateways)
  • September 2021 – v2 infrastructure will be switched off, no more communication on it

This blog post details my advises and experience of the migration. As I’ll do it in different waves for practical reason, this post will be updated. So please come back and refresh all along the months of February-March 2021 to get the updates, content and advice will be updated according to my progress.

Personal current advice about migration: START INVESTIGATING SINGLE DEVICE MIGRATION

I had some difficulties to migrate my first device and this has been solved by upgrading the gateway and redefining it in the TTNv2 backend. Discovering such situation earlier is important to get on time for upgrading. I recommend to start migrating 1 device to identify such situation. Migrating more than a device could still means impossible ways for some of your devices to communicate through v2 infrastructure. But it will help to prepare your infrastructure for migration.

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RAK Wisgate Egde Light review

RAK is one of the most famous LoRaWan gateway manufacturer in the hacker space as they have made HAT for raspberry Pi since a while.

I’m not a big fan of RPI based gateways as I do not want to manage RaspiOS and Rpi hardware and really prefer to have an all in one product well integrated when deploying Gateways. So the Wisgate solution is a better choice in my point of view and it has taken time before I decided to buy one of them.

I’ve bought this one for my next project of LoRaWan solar gateway as I want this one to be fully autonomous, including a 4G connectivity. I have multiple candidate gateways for this like the Kerlink iFemToCell evolution and this Wisgate Edge. The Wisgate price is lower at $249 compared to 325€ for the Kerlink. For this reason, and the fact I already tested the iFemToCell some years ago, my first choice has been on the RAK gateway.

So let’s review this Rak Wisgate gateway !

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LORIX One LoRaWan gateway review

Yes, I’ve got one of these LoRaWan light saber I was looking for, since a while! For this I really thank you Wifx who helped me to get one. I know this is really unusual for them to work with blogger, so thank you for your trust. So honestly, even if I’ve been sponsored to get the device, I’m really happy to make that gateway test. As I said this gateway is one of my favorite since a while. The reason are a really compact outdoor design. It makes the difference 😉

I did not made a test previously because this have a cost, about 500€, (549CHF) this not much expensive but a bit high regrading my non-profit activity on TheThingsNetwork local deployment.

Now, I’m done telling you my life, we can see what this gateway is proposing !

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