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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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