Helium solar hotspot (Data-Only) 2021 update

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.

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Migrate any LoRaWAN gateway to helium network as a Data-Only hotspot

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.

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Helium Data-Only hotspot with RAK WisGate Edge Prime

RAK7240

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.

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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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Monitor a gateway connected to The Things Network

I’ve published a post in January 2019 on a solution to alarm you TTN gateway. It was based on noc API but these API have been deprecated. It means this solution is not working anymore.

So I’m investigating some new solution: the more relevant is the use of TTN cli solution.

Let’s seen what can we do with this.

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Low-cost outdoor solar powered LoRaWan Gateway

I really love Reece Innovation Solar powered pod product developed by my friend Jose Marcelino. They’ve made a agricultural / industrial autonomous solar powered LoRaWan gateway for a really competitive price. With much more money to extend TheThingsNetwork in my city I would have used a such solution. But as this is just a hobby for me, I’m looking for really low cost solution, something under 500€ per gateway.

My main issue to extend the network is not really to find roof but to find some where I can pass an Ethernet cable and provide the power from it. I have some place where I could deploy new gateway in conduction to be cable-less. The network is not the main issue as most of the time a WiFi network is accessible. Powering is a larger problem to solve. Advantages of outdoor gateway: you have sun available. So, as Reece Innovation did, I decided to make my solar gateway, the main differences are: my will have no LTE communication capability (only WiFi) and it have to cost as less as possible.

Let see what I’ve done

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MikroTik LoRa8 Gateway

I’ve been talking about this ultra low cost LoRaWan gateway in last October and ordered one. The time to get it has been long as it has been arrived in February this year. This sounds due to an early ordering as the product is now available, even on Amazon for a price under 180€.

This price is not so low if you compare to a Laird Sentrius but we are not talking the same product ! Here we have an outdoor gateway with PoE powering. That’s really interesting. The only missing thing is a LTE communication.

This gateway exists in two different version LoRa8 for 868Mhz zones and LoRa9 for 902 MHz zone.

Let’s see it in detail and find how to configure it for joining TTN.

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