Nebra Helium miner review

Nebra indoor miner customer box

After reviewing the Rak Wireless miner in a previous blog post, after receiving my own Nebra miner, I’ll give a review of it.

The Nebra miner is one of the different Helium miner machine. It is at first a LongFi (LoRaWan) gateway. It includes a software to run it over a blockchain to create a global IoT network. you can get more details on what is helium in the linked blog post.

This review is on a Nebra batch #1, it is possible that some of the given information will not be valid in a couple of weeks when the batch #2, #3 … will be delivered. No need to precise it but this is an end-user review. I’ve ordered and paid my miner. I’ve no link with Nebra.

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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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LoRaWAN soil moisture solar device using Helium network

My child have a small garden where he has tomatoes, mint, different vegetables and fruits. We want to know when it is the right time to water it.

This was also an opportunity to use my Rak Wisblock kit fro something else than just writing some blog post. I’ve chosen to connect the device over Helium network because I’m making different tests on this network currently but it is also working on TheThingsNetwork the same way. So you can use the network most covering you around.

The data will be displayed on Cayenne Mydevice for getting a quick dashboard for displaying the information. In this blog post I’m going to describe the main steps and the needed hardware to make your own device.

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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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Radio cable selection for outdoor (LoRaWan) antenna

When looking for a cable to connect an antenna, you need to consider different parameters:

  • The cable loss at 868MHz (if corresponding)
  • The connector type

In this post I’ve tried to list some of the mostly used cable and connectors for connecting LoRaWan antennas.

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